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In three decades, Kent architectural firm David Sommers & Associates has grown from a bedroom business to a partnership whose work can been seen throughout Portage County, Northeastern Ohio and Ohio's five bordering states.
As the firm continues to grow and shape projects throughout the region, David Sommers said each day on the job is still a new experience.
"The neat thing, I think, about what we do, is that it's almost never the same from day to day," he said. "It's not monotonous at all. It keeps me engaged and active. I like what I do."
Sommers started the firm in 1983 out of a spare bedroom in his home. After working for three different Ohio firms over the course of nine years, he was ready to branch off, even without any clients lined up. Two years later, Sommers moved the firm to downtown Kent in the space currently above Hometown Bank on North Water Street.
Sommers said the firm's success, which, paraphrasing Jerry Garcia, he called "A long, strange trip," has been built up around a "family" of colleagues who can let loose, collaborate with each other and clients and give a piece of themselves back to the community.
"We're extremely involved in our community," said Jeff Meyers, a partner to the firm of four years and employee of 13 years.
"It's all about giving back," said Sommers, noting that architects and designers at the firm are involved in the Jaycees, Rotary, zoning boards, chamber boards and many other volunteer efforts.
To mark its 30th anniversary, David Sommers & Associates is giving back even more by working in kind for the Kent Historical Society on a project that will give its home, the Clapp-Woodward House at 237 E. Main St., elevator access to the museum's second floor.
"The people who come to visit our museum tend to be older people and every week we have people who really have a hard time getting upstairs to view the exhibits on the second floor," said Tom Hatch, director the historical society. "This is going to make a huge difference. David and his staff have been invaluable and I can't say enough for the good job they've done."
Meyers said Sommers has the ability to make employees feel at home, and push them toward success.
"A good leader is not the one behind the horses whipping them; a good leader is the one in front of the horses pulling them, and that's what David is. David is always in front of us, pulling us where we need to go," Meyers said.
Focusing on five areas -- adaptive reuse, animal facilities, civic projects, residential and restaurant -- Sommers' list of past projects includes Hometown Bank, the American Legion, Brimfield Police Department, ACS Industries, Ray's Place, the Veteran's Memorial at the Portage County Courthouse in Ravenna, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, every Pizza Hut in the region and Sea World before it closed.
"Sea World was fun. Not too many people can say that they've been kissed by a walrus, but I can," Sommers said. "They have really bad breath, by the way."
Sommers said the firm works to get the clients exactly what they want.
"We don't design monuments to ourselves. There are a lot of architects out there who do that -- they want the fame and notoriety," he said. "If anything, we're making a statement for the owner."
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