A collection of love letters written to the town.
My best memories could have only happened here.
Growing up in the country, it was a fifteen minute drive to get groceries, gas, dinner, or anything, really. And that was just to get to Bowling Green. So when we made the trip to the big city of Toledo, it was pretty exciting for me. It didn’t happen as often as I liked, but when it did, it was magical.
I was always mesmerized by Southwyck Mall. That’s where I got to tell Santa what I wanted every year and where we did most of our Christmas shopping. That’s where I had my first Orange Julius, begged for hot pretzels even if we were on our way to dinner, and climbed onto the bronze lion statues outside of The Lion Store, despite being told numerous times not to do so. And eventually, that’s where I found my first full-time job, slinging CDs and tapes like a rock star at National Record Mart. I spent my lunches at Coney Island chatting with Kyriakos Kyriakou, better known to most people as “Charlie.” I made friends in that mall that I still have 20 years later. I’m getting ahead of myself.
A special treat for my family was getting to eat at Ground Round on Alexis before spending the evening at Raceway Park. It was nearly an hour drive from where we lived. My dad always let us make small bets on the horses and we got to keep our winnings. My sister didn’t win very often, but I was a natural. I could pick the ponies like a seasoned pro, raking in the money like it was my job. That may or may not be true, but between the fog of time and a dash of BS, that’s how I remember it.
Before the Huntington Center, there was the Sports Arena. That’s where I saw my first concert. Too young to drive, we were chaperoned to watch KISS in all of their rock n’ roll magic and majesty. The spectacle of it all was almost too much for my little heart to take. Unfamiliar scents hung in the smoky air as colorful lights cut through it like lasers. The scents would become a tad more familiar later in life (sorry Mom), but the rest of it lives on like a fairy tale in my memories with a killer soundtrack. I saw many more concerts there over the years. I took my friend Asia to see Poison (damn right, I said Poison) on the eve of my last day of high school.
A few years later, I finally got to explore places that offered alcoholic beverages. I fell in love with Rusty’s Jazz Café the first time I walked in the door. I made it a point to go see Eddie Abrams whenever I could. He often tried to convince me to sit in on drums, despite never having heard me play. But I was always too nervous to get up there. Now that he’s gone, I really wish I had.
At one point, I wanted to leave Toledo far behind; I wanted to pack up and start anew. I think I totally just used a semicolon appropriately there. But I didn’t leave. I stuck around. I stayed when the Sports Arena was reduced to rubble. And I stayed when Southwyck Mall was closed and eventually demolished. I stayed when Raceway Park was shuttered after being a Toledo staple for nearly fifty years. I stayed when the theater in which I saw Return of the Jedi on opening weekend was no more. I stayed when the term “brain drain” became a frequent insult to my friends and neighbors. And then the came the t-shirts.
You Will Do Better In Toledo
Will I really? Is it just a catchphrase that we got nostalgic about and decided to revive? Or is there truly an opportunity to succeed in this city? Swing by Kengo Sushi and Yakitori and ask Josh Wagy. Or ask Lance Roper as you sip Actual Coffee. Or stop by the Original Sub Shop & Deli and ask Maureen Brogan. If he has time between shooting images that wind up on the cover of Sports Illustrated and USA Today, ask Andrew Weber. Or maybe you could ask the guys in the band Secret Space, who were able to sign with Equal Vision Records. Or perhaps you could ask Jacob Parr, who has the talent and drive to make it anywhere in the country. Yet he doubled down on Toledo and moved into the Old West End, making Master Thief a wholly Toledo (see what I did there?) creation. Ask Nathan Walke how Code City is coming along. And if you’ve seen the t-shirt in question, you might want to see how much better John Amato has done in Toledo with JŪPMODE. I could go on and on here, but I think it’s pretty clear that there is indeed an opportunity to do better in Toledo. But is “doing better” enough reason to stay?
We have a world-class art museum and zoo, the best minor league baseball stadium in the country, and a park system that you could explore for years. I grew up in love with this city. But then I reached a point where I wanted to run off to Los Angeles or New York or Narnia (pretty sure it’s real place, ya’ll). And you guys… I almost left for Dallas last month. I know, I know. I had my place downtown all picked out and even knew approximately when I was going to move. It’s a city with an exploding startup scene and their downtown is being revitalized at a breakneck pace.
So, why didn’t I go? I wish I could tell you that I had an epiphany of some sort, but that would be a lie. Ultimately, it was my 12-year-old son who got to me. Within a five minute conversation with him, I decided to stay put here in T-Town. This ultimately led to a moment of terror. Where will I live?!? Where will I work?!? How many Maddie & Bella rewards stars do I have?!? As luck would have it, as it usually does in Toledo, all of those questions were answered very quickly as the puzzle pieces just fell into place.
Looking back on my life in and around Toledo, I realize that my best memories could have only happened here. I’ve done and will continue to do better in Toledo. There are a lot of us quietly doing so. It’s more than a slogan. It’s an undeniable truth if we embrace it. I’m glad I stayed. I’m proud to call myself a Toledoan. But I’m even more proud of some of the incredibly talented people in this city who wake up every morning and choose to stay.
Mark is an executive strategist at The C. J. Anderson Co, focusing on startup executives in transition. He serves on the board of a local nonprofit and is a member of the core planning team of Detroit Startup Week 2017. In his free time, Mark manages a Toledo hip hop artist. He’s the father of one human child and one canine child. A lifelong resident of Northwest Ohio, Mark will be speaking at Code City on Monday, May 1st about the benefits of biting off more than you think you can chew.
We caught up with Mark at the bustling Rustbelt Coffee on Ontario Street.