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Canton, Greater Akron: Eric Smer

Downtown Canton

Gervasi Winery

Historic Canton Club

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Eric Smer was born and raised in Canton and never left. He attended Kent State University for marketing and business management and has traveled everywhere but, he says, he's a "Stark County lifer."
As a sophomore in college he did some service learning with the Stark County Hunger Task Force, which facilitates food pantries throughout the county, and found the work so much more rewarding than anything else he might have done. He started down the nonprofit road from there, eventually becoming the Executive Director of the Task Force at only 24 years old. "We have to recognize the potential with young people," he says, as he recalls how people reacted to him having such a high position at such a young age, often not taking him seriously. He encourages recent graduates and young professionals to get out and volunteer, get experience any way they can whether through internships or nonprofit work. "It's not going to be traditional job experience, but it's still experience, and it's better than changing jobs 18 times."
During his time with the Task Force he was able to implement a five-year plan that created new opportunities and partnerships with other organizations, including opening a new office that serves as a one-stop shop offering emergency food resources on a campus that is home to 18 other nonprofit human services organizations.
Eric realized that his position at the top would only allow him to professionally develop so far, so when an opportunity with the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce presented itself to be Executive Director of YStark!, the Chamber's young professionals group with 1,600 members, he took it. He is very passionate about everyone in the county working together to lift each other, whether it means him working for the Hunger Task Force or for YStark! "It's about getting through people's minds and building people. All these things connect and drive and inform each other."
Stark County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state and is lower than the national average. The oil and gas industries are booming, and there is a lot of pride in the area that has kept them afloat even during the bad times. "We talk the talk because we walk the walk of making Stark County a great place to live, work, and play."
Dining & Drinking
Eric says the Gervasi Vineyard is "a little bit of Tuscany right in our backyard." Stark County is a mix of very urban, suburban, and rural populations. "As soon as you get out of (the city) you can be on a farm in minutes. Somewhere in between a vineyard popped up. It's grand and glorious; you really feel like you're in Napa or Tuscany. You can hang out with a brick oven pizza and glass of wine and have no idea where you are."
The historic downtown venue the Canton Club used to be private businessman's club and is now a public restaurant. "You can go up to the historic Canton Club and have a scenic view of all of downtown," Eric says. They have great daily specials and other menu options.
There is a lot of comfort food in the area, including a ton of Italian but he specifically recommends Tozzi's, which recently decided to switch to all craft beers. Belden Village has a number of restaurants.
The Rail is a new burger joint that uses all local grass-fed beef and produce from local farmers which is about to open a second location in Canton's Westfield Belden Village Mall. "I cannot wait. I will drive the 40 minutes just to eat their burger and come home." He raves about the Seventh Heaven Burger made with truffle butter and served with a side of truffle fries.
The Canton and greater Stark County community has one of the highest restaurant counts per capita in the country. "If you drive through Stark County and can't find somewhere to eat you just don't like food!" he jokes. He says there is a nice blend between local and mom and pop joints and nationally-known chains. "If you go to two or three restaurants every week for a year you could never go to the same place twice."
Arts & Culture
The Loop is the cultural hub of Canton. The National First Ladies Library is located here, preserving the cultural contributions of America's first ladies. "First ladies have a lot of initiatives they lead and history they create, so this is to honor that." ArtsinStark runs the Annual Arts Campaign and allocates funds to the five cultural organizations located within the Cultural Center, which it manages. The Cultural Center is home to the Canton Ballet, Canton Symphony Orchestra, Canton Museum of Art, Players Guild Theatre, and Voices of Canton. The Canton Museum of Art is a well-respected institution which is able to command significant touring exhibits.
First Fridays are held every month (on the first Friday) when Canton's art galleries and studios open up to the public and there are live performances, street performers, art crafts, balloon animals, and more. "It's basically a mini festival that takes over entire district for that night. We want people to know downtown is safe, friendly, and fun, and that there's activity happening. Most of these things happen every weekend but this gets it all in sync to happen at the same time."
The Canton Development Partnership puts on the downtown festivals which include Taste of Canton, Vintage Canton (featuring wineries and breweries from all over the state), a Blues Festival, and a farmers market every Saturday.
Canton is "the birthplace of the NFL" and is home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They host the annual Enshrinement Festival for the Hall of Fame induction which includes a Queen's Pageant and a Hall of Fame Balloon Classic in conjunction with a food festival that takes over Kent State's Stark County campus. Professional teams come to play at the Canton McKinley Senior High School, there are fireworks, a downtown carnival, a five-mile run, a taste fest showing off all of Canton's great restaurants, a rib burn competition, and a game day dinner, all within a two-week period around the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.
"We are a football town and we really play into that. It's one of the things that gets people in and gets people to rally."
The Cleveland Cavaliers have the Canton Charge, a minor league basketball team about to enter their third season. They made the playoffs their first two years. They play at the Canton Civic Center, right next to the Cultural Center and Canton Civic Center. The Cavs will also come down occasionally and play a game or two.
The Great Outdoors
Stark Parks host a variety of events with a number of trail runs. "Stark Parks connect the county in a more recreational, physical, and social way," Eric says. "The trails that they built are expanding and getting closer to the point that a person in any one of the communities that surround Canton can hop on a bike trail and bike or jog (to any of the other communities)." The trails pass all the area's historic monuments, the Hoover historic farm and factory, and even the scenic winery where people can take a break and enjoy some limoncello or gelato.
Stark Parks was one of the first park systems to combine with the library system. There is a lake and marina, an animal rehabilitation center, picnic shelters, trails for hiking, and also a Stark County Library branch, all one collaborative area. 

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