ZipsGuide releases moms, dads and grads guide for shopping small in downtown Akron



ZipsGuide releases moms, dads and grads guide for shopping small in downtown Akron

On Tuesday, May 7, University of Akron (UA) students in a public relations writing course taught by Julie Cajigas, professor of practice in UA’s School of Communication, launched, "A ZipsGuide to Gifting Moms, Dads and Grads.”

The guide, which is part of the ZipsGuide project, contains 22 new stories and 16 new in-depth business profiles of small, local businesses in downtown Akron.

The ZipsGuide is a unique initiative which serves a dual purpose. It is both an insightful shopping guide for individuals across the Northeast Ohio region to explore Akron 's distinctive array of small businesses, and a valuable media kit for outlets covering holidays and events like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Artist Sunday and the broader theme of shopping locally.

“The students interviewed and visited these businesses,” Cajigas said. “There is a wealth of information at about downtown Akron’s small business community that shoppers can’t find anywhere else online.”

Those in the University of Akron campus community and the greater Akron community can support the initiative by following @ZipsGuideAkron on Instagram and Facebook, and by reading and using the guide as they shop for upcoming special occasions such as graduations, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

“I have no doubt that if you explore it, you will learn something new about downtown Akron that you find valuable,” Cajigas said.

To launch the guide, the students are running a social media contest with giveaway items from downtown businesses valued at around $800. The giveaway is divided into three prize packs, with prizes for a mother, father and for a graduate. Winners will be pulled on Saturday, May 11. A Community Engaged Course Project

The initiative grew out of The ZipsGuide to Shopping Small & Local in the Rubber City, which began as a community-engaged learning project undertaken by students during a fall 2023 Public Relations Writing course.

The project allowed students to immerse themselves in the local business landscape, handpicking and interviewing small enterprises to feature in the guide. The collaborative efforts were supported by Downtown Akron Partnership, enhancing the students' ability to showcase the diverse entrepreneurial spirit thriving in Akron.

The idea for the project began during a summer workshop at UA’s EX[L] Center for Community-Engaged Learning, where Cajigas and Dominic Caruso, director of communications for Downtown Akron Partnership, envisioned a shop local initiative.

The idea evolved into a comprehensive shopping guide. Cajigas tasked her students with selecting downtown Akron businesses, contributing to the guide's goal of highlighting the city's unique small business community.

Throughout the process, students navigated challenges, learned valuable lessons, and uncovered the personal stories of the Akron residents behind each business.

Cajigas edited the student's content as if they were reporting to a professional editor, transforming individual assignments into a cohesive shopping guide. The finished website shows an expansive virtual tour capturing many of Akron's vibrant small businesses. The students also created Instagram and Facebook accounts for ZipsGuide and continue to run these accounts even after the course concluded.

“In general, I just think it's a neat example of what students can do, and it's also a prime example of community-engaged learning through the EX[L] Center,” Cajigas commented. “These students now have an excellent portfolio, real-world experience with their stories published on the site and the production of news releases to showcase." 

EX[L] and its Akron Community Internship Program support ZipsGuide with internships

The guide continues to thrive thanks to the EX[L] Center, which supported two Akron Community Internship Program (ACIP) interns for ZipsGuide and Downtown Akron Partnership during the spring 2024 semester. The interns, Madison Latona and Anthony Nichols, who were members of the fall 2023 Public Relations Writing class and are supporting the current students by keeping the site fresh and alive in between semesters.

Fall 2023 student Shananne Lewis also signed on for an independent study with Cajigas to continue learning about the social media aspects of the guide.

Julie and Shananne Lewis (Nominator).jpeg Julie and Shananne Lewis

Latona, Nichols and Lewis have been all over downtown working to supply content for the guide. Their experiences included exploring the Sakura Festival, recording videos with various businesses, assisting Downtown Akron Partnership with its initiatives, and creating shopping guides for Valentine’s Day, Black History Month, Spring Break and the eclipse.

"This internship has been a wonderful opportunity,” Latona said. “It has not only taught me how to edit and write articles myself and to edit the work of peers, but it has also given me real- world experience.”.

Latona was responsible for building five weeks of giveaways for the guide and for creating the ZipsGuide to the Solar Eclipse, which included a four-day itinerary for individuals visiting the area to experience totality.

“I now can confidently manage social media and write articles and releases,” Latona said. “Plus, I have made connections in the [public relations] field and in the downtown Akron community.”

For Latona, the internship has also offered important opportunities to grow.

“I feel I am more prepared for a career in public relations when I am done with college because of this internship. I could not be more grateful," she said.

The EX[L] Center will be fully funding a summer intern, Liv Ream, also from the fall 2023 section, and is currently exploring funding for a fall 2024 intern from the spring 2024 course section.

ZipsGuide recognized

The ZipsGuide project received awards at the EX[L] Awards and Cajigas received the Outstanding Community Engagement Award at The University of Akron Achievement Awards. She was nominated by one of the students who contributed to the guide in fall 2023.

Julie and the Interns.jpegCajigas and interns

All of the collaborators working with ZipsGuide are hoping that it becomes a resource for both locals and visitors, encouraging support for the community's small businesses. In the works for ZipsGuide are a guide to summer break in Akron, a holiday market on campus next winter, and social media training and resource offerings for downtown businesses.

To learn more about, or to contact the guide, please contact Cajigas at