"I began to wonder, 'If there were more skaters, could we influence more kids to try it?'" says Garrison. "For me, it all came from taking a chance, and I wanted to pass it on."
The Slavic Village Development Corporation embraced the idea of a skate park and put Garrison in touch with Frantz to begin planning the effort. Garrison witnessed a turning point that occurred at one of the public meetings for the new park, which is now in the early design phase and will be built on Broadway Avenue.
"There was an older Polish woman who stood up at the meeting and said, 'I think this would be great for our neighborhood,'" he remembers. "People were really excited."
Now 22, Garrison recently became the Public Square Group's first employee. He joins Gabriel Venditti, PSG's volunteer project manager, who organizes events around town. Garrison's job is to help organize lessons and build the local skating scene.
Today, skateboarding has helped define a new identity for Slavic Village. Residents have begun to envision the neighborhood as a hub for urban recreation. In addition to skating, a new bike-and-hike trail called Morgana Run courses through the neighborhood, and a long-awaited velodrome for bicycles is scheduled to open there next month. To Frantz and Garrison, it's early evidence that their work is paying off.
CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARDS
As Cleveland's skateboarding scene has grown up, so have its skaters. Those raised in the '80s — at a time when the sport was marked by angry punk music and police handing out tickets to skateboarders — now have kids, houses, and jobs of their own. Yet they continue to skateboard in between diaper changes and paying the bills — and during lunch breaks at places like Jakprints.
Stosh Burgess, a 38-year-old skater who owns the Spitfire Saloon on the Lakewood-Cleveland border, says the sport inspired him to quit his job driving a truck and start a business.
"There are no rules to skating, and you can skate anything if you can get away with it," says Burgess, who used to have a half-pipe in his bar that also doubled as a stage for punk bands. Since he opened the Spitfire, it's become an unofficial hangout for skaters.
Jakprints' Jacob Edwards met his business partner, Dameon Guess, when they were both teenagers prone to sneaking out of their suburban homes to skate illegally at Public Square. Now 35, Edwards makes a point of hiring skateboarders at Jakprints.
"Entrepreneurs are not afraid of falling, and neither are skateboarders," he says. "I always look at it as a really positive thing when my employees skateboard. We're a small, agile print shop competing with a massive market of companies in this field. I need people who are willing to throw themselves down steps and try new tricks."
Today, Edwards and Guess have built Jakprints from a two-man T-shirt printing shop into an ever-expanding company that feeds off of its ties to skateboarding and music culture. Jakprints has expanded into the upper floors of the Cadillac Building, and the company is starting to renovate the first floor as a hub for other creative companies. The Skate Kitchen will be open for all of them.
"The entire redevelopment project is wrapped around the skate park," says Edwards, who has built a green screen for filmmaking and is looking for a ground-level coffee shop that will service his employees as well as students from nearby Cleveland State University.
"If you work at Jakprints and don't skateboard or play in a band, then you're the weird one," says John Stashick, a 22-year-old Tremont resident who runs a folding and perforating machine at Jakprints and brings his board to work.
MORE AXLES TO GRIND
The Public Square Group offers skateboarding lessons that draw children from across Northeast Ohio to Lakewood all summer long. By starting with five-year-olds, Frantz hopes the next generation is even better equipped to influence public policy decisions and shape the region's future.
For now, though, he'd just like to teach kids how to ride without falling off. He also wants their parents to have a good time and feel comfortable that their kids are safe.