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How Awarding Startups Free Rent for 6 Months Is Kickstarting a Renaissance in Scranton

Photograph by Justin Adam Brown, Better than the Weekend



The cultural and economic identity of America has long been linked to innovation and entrepreneurship. A thriving economy relies on a balanced mix of established corporations and startups.


However, a national decline in new business formation is threatening this healthy balance in all but just a few super-performing cities. Startup formation has become geographically clustered, with half of the rise in new business creation from 2010 to 2014 occurring in only 20 of America’s 3,000-plus counties — ultimately creating elite hubs for job growth and tax revenue and limiting those with entrepreneurial spirit in the rest of the country.

Business and real-estate developer Donald Rinaldi, of Scranton, Pa., realizes small businesses are “the engine that drives the economy of any city.” That’s why he ignited an initiative — the “Kickstart Art” challenge — to provide resources and mentorship to creative entrepreneurs earlier this year. The challenge encouraged businesses focused around the arts to compete for a storefront in Scranton’s Bogart Court Boutique Shops, part of the Renaissance at 500 Lackawanna Avenue, a downtown residential and business development that’s also complete with luxury residences, a park, and retail and restaurant space. The award for winning the challenge was free rent for the first six months of a one-year lease. Rinaldi saw the competitive challenge as an opportunity to be the first piece in the puzzle of creating an arts district in Scranton.

“I knew this could help arts-related businesses who always wanted their own brick-and-mortar store to take the next step by giving them a head start,” Rinaldi said.


Not one but three new businesses won the challenge: Trinity Studios, Grapevine Design & Trinka Studios, and AOS Metals.

Kari Johnson is the artist behind AOS Metals. The shop, which stands for art of simplicity, sells hand-made metal jewelry crafted by Johnson.

AOS Metals owner, Kari Johnson, right, selling her handcrafted jewelry to a customer. | Photograph by Justin Adam Brown, Better than the Weekend

Photograph by Elena Yu, Better than the Weekend

Photograph by Elena Yu, Better than the Weekend

She said she wouldn’t be a business owner without the help of Rinaldi’s vision for an arts district.

“I knew how to create, but I didn’t understand what it took to form your skill into a business — not until Don mentored me throughout the process of the ‘Kickstart Art’ challenge,” Johnson said. “Don went through the ins and outs of what it takes to start a business. I learned a lot from him. We also had to take a free class through the Small Business Development Center to be considered for the challenge.”

Johnson admires what her mentor, Rinaldi, is doing for the city of Scranton.

“He’s making it possible for people to stay in Scranton and not have to leave the area to find success in starting a business or building a career that deals with creativity,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to stay around here and have a business like this. Bogart Court used to be a dirty back alley. The people I talk to who come to the shop keep saying how they’re dying to see more opportunity like this in Scranton.”

AOS Metals also sells hand-made items by other artists.

“I know how difficult it can be to get in the zone of turning your art into a profitable business,” Johnson said. “I want to help other people get in that mindset by selling their items in my store. Whether it’s handmade greeting cards, T-Shirts, scarves, whatever, I know how that when people are buying and appreciating your hard work, it can be extremely motivating to keep creating.”

Handcrafted soap sold at AOS Metals in Scranton, Pa. | Photograph by Elena Yu, Better than the Weekend

Handcrafted wallet sold at AOS Metals in Scranton, Pa. | Photograph by Elena Yu, Better than the Weekend

Handmade birth announcements sold at AOS Metals in Scranton, Pa. | Photograph by Elena Yu, Better than the Weekend

Johnson said she hopes the new storefronts at Bogart Court Boutique Shops will inspire others to stay in the city of Scranton and turn their skills into new businesses in the new year.




1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Brit

    December 14, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    Kari at AOS has been an absolute visionary from Wyoming, Montana, I think Colorado and many others. If you’re looking for a unique piece or anything no one else can find go to this girl.

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Vintage Frat is the life of the party on Instagram right now, possibly forever



Gone are the days of moms and dads knocking on wood that social media didn’t exist when they were young, dumb and figuring out the world. Remnants of debauchery from past generations are resurfacing on @vintagefrat, an Instagram account paying homage to legendary fraternity throwbacks.

Here’s some of the of the most lit pics from Vintage Fraternity. (Warning: You may see your mom or dad.)

“Hello Ladies, welcome to pledgeship. I’ll be your guide.”

Saturday’s are for the Brothers. 

Take a moment to respect the most legendary composite of all time. 

Daytona Beach ’89 was wild. #AskYourDad

There was always that one Brother who understood the meaning of life. 

Here’s why your dad’s friends call him Superman. 

And here’s when your dad met your mom. 

Reminding the children of the future that House Hounds need to be the focus of every fraternity house.

And here’s a reminder that Benny the Beaver was probably with your girl. 

Tribute to the Brother who didn’t even attend one class all semester.

Classic Spring Break transportation. 

Sure, Greek Life has it’s fair share of wild times.  

But @vintagefrat is a solid reminder that Greek Life is also a resume builder, putting students in positions that prepare them for the future. 

Mainly, Greek Life is about togetherness. #NeverForget #AskYourDad

Go follow @vintagefrat on Instagram and then follow @betterthantheweekend.

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This College Dropout Is Schooling Influencers and Startups on How to Get a Next Level Social Media Following



Ryan Hertel, Founder of Socialocca

College isn’t for everyone. Ryan Hertel can vouch. He spent three semesters studying mass communications at King’s College, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, after surrendering to pressure from his parents to follow the traditional pathway to money and happiness. Now, the 24-year-old is running his own business — a creative branding agency called Socialocca — in the same field in which many of his degree-holding peers are struggling to stay afloat or even secure entry-level jobs.

As influencers and startups are waking up each day to grind and shine and stand out, Ryan has his finger on the pulse of what works in marketing, what doesn’t and where social media is going. He recently spoke to Better than the Weekend to share some insights.

You’re an unlikely choice to be administering marketing advice to companies. You don’t have a college degree. What makes you an expert? I’m helping people build their brand online. In order to do that, I don’t necessarily need a marketing degree. I just need to have the experience of building a brand. The reason I can even contend when it comes to being in the know about branding and social media and marketing is because I built a DJ’ing business and was successful at building that business by utilizing social media to spread the word and get more than 13,000 followers on Instagram alone. Most people with a marketing degree say, ‘Hey, I know what I’m doing. I was taught what to do.’ I can say, ‘Hey, I know what I’m doing. I used social media to make money for my own business. I can do it for you.’ A lot of people have the knowledge of what to do, but they don’t actually have the track record to prove they can grow a brand’s following. 

Photographed by Lisa Petz

Influencers and newer companies may feel their credibility lies in numbers. Some buy followers to build their credibility. What are the pros and cons to focusing on the amount of followers you have in the beginning by paying for them? People who don’t know what they’re doing who want to be social media influencers do this too often when they’re starting out. There aren’t any pros to buying followers anymore. There were when people were easily fooled and buying followers weren’t a common practice. You can’t fake the following anymore. It’s easy to spot a fake audience today. Plus, fake followers will actually hurt your algorithms on Instagram or Facebook. Less of your real following will see your content. A bunch of fake accounts will see your content and your level of engagement will make you look far less popular than you should be. 

Some services promote buying real followers. Are there any services you know of that do this which you’d recommend? That’s not a real thing. They’re scams. Don’t fall for it. I’d recommend any service that acknowledges they can’t grow your service overnight and one that focuses on goals and not guaranteeing a certain amount of followers. Anybody who says they guarantee results is lying to you. Organic marketing cannot be guaranteed. It all depends on how good the marketing campaign is and how good the content is. 

How important are hashtags in connecting with new followers? They’re not important any more. Plain and simple, anyone who knows what they’re doing on social media doesn’t care about hashtags. They were cool like four years ago. Now, we’re just at the point where some of these hashtags are used by 56 million other people. Hashtags are way too oversaturated. No-one is sitting on their phone and looking up hashtags. It might get a couple more likes, but they’re usually from auto-generated services, anyway. Instagram is now doing something called shadow banning, where they’re even hiding many of these hashtags because they’re trying to slow down the feed. So your hashtag might not even be seen. If you’re relying on hashtags, you have to get way more creative with your marketing.

What is important when marketing your posts? What’s most important, above everything, is the quality of the post. Posting too frequently hurts your feed. Posting quality pics and videos less frequently will be more beneficial, because those posts can circulate for a couple of days if they’re quality posts. People are on social media to listen to what you have to say. It’s now a popularity contest, not a contest as to who posts the most.

Then is consistency still important, or has consistency evolved in terms of marketing on social media? The consistency of the quality of your post is better than the consistency of when you post. While being consistent is important, people get a little too carried away with it, thinking they have to post twice a day at the same time every day. That’s too much for people to take in. They need to be more consistent with the quality of what they’re putting out there and not the time.

Ryan Hertel, Founder of Socialocca

Any tips for influencers and brands when it comes to engaging with their audience? It’s important to actually engage with others and not just post content. Like posts. Comment. Not just on your feed, but there’s too. Even as a business, you want to Like posts and engage on other accounts. Tag people you’re working with. If you’re just sitting there doing nothing, nobody is going to remember you or think about you. If they constantly see you tagging and interacting with others like a regular person, they’re going to take you more seriously.

Where is social media headed? Everything is starting to turn into people asking, ‘What are they doing right now?’ Look at Snapchat and Instagram stories and Facebook Live. You can really cast your entire day on social media for people to see and people will watch. They’re interested in seeing what you’re doing in real-time, they respond to it, and they rush to see it before it usually disappears in 24 hours. When it comes to structure and systems and processes, it’s important to know rules don’t apply. No one rule applies to the same two people or company. Influencers and brands need to start living in the moment and capturing that. The future of social media is immediacy.

And there you have it. Now make like Missy Elliot, put your thing down, flip it, and reverse it onto your own social media branding agenda. Good luck!

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Watch This Solider Dunk for Donuts



Jason Ciesielski is a Field Artillery Soldier in the Army National Guard and an athlete making his mark on social media. When he’s not busy serving his country, the 20-year-old can be seen on his Instagram and Facebook page showing off high box jumps, dead lifts and freestyle dunks.

“I want to empower people to be the best, strongest versions of themselves,” he says.

Jason recently went Live on Facebook with Better than the Weekend to dunk while treating himself to one of his guilty pleasures — Dunkin’ Donuts. He picked out four of his favorite fried cakes of sweetened dough and made sure he dunked before indulging his sweet tooth. Moral of the story: You can still be fit and eat what you want, as long as you work for it.

Watch and see how he did. Ladies, you’re welcome. 😉

Dunkin' for Donuts

Real men earn their donuts 🏅Ask Jason Tyler Ciesielski

Posted by Better than the Weekend on Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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