After moving from Chicago to Dallas, Todd Mrozek ended up in “Little Chicago” — Johnson City — in 2006. Years ago, he conceived the idea to collect and bottle rain from different parts of the country to sell as souvenirs. He’ll be doing just that this weekend in downtown Johnson City at the second annual Little Chicago Downtown Music and Arts Festival.
As strange as it might sound to some, Mrozek said it's a unique way to “capture and keep the essence of a place.”
“It’s really just something for fun,” he said. “People either look at it and think it's interesting, or they just go nuts over it.”
Mrozek has traveled just about everywhere, working as a journalist years ago before he ran for office as a state representative for Tennessee’s 7th District in 2010. He is the son-in-law of Vice Mayor Jenny Brock. His wife Jennifer, who also helps collect rain, was born here, which is what brought them back to the region years ago.
“I fell in love with the area, and we’ve been here ever since,” Mrozek said.
Mrozek began collecting and selling rain a few months ago, initially collecting rain samples from across East Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains region. His current occupation as an engineering salesman gives him the chance to continue traveling across the country, which is why he started expanding his area of collection to other regions: Asheville, Dallas, New York City, Chicago and numerous other cities.
“It gives me an opportunity to grab rain from all kinds of different places,” Mrozek said.
But of course, the amount of precipitation experienced here is also a plus for Mrozek, who said he tries to seize every opportunity to go out and collect the rain.
“One of the things we’ve discovered is how much rainfall we get in Johnson City,” he said. “We get over 40 inches annually in East Tennessee, so it's certainly a prevalent aspect of our weather.”
That amount of rain is important, too, as Mrozek said he has noticed a surprising increase of demand since coming up with the idea. As Johnson City continues to grow and attract new visitors, he hopes to “ride that wave” by selling this new commodity.
“They’re great for gifts and collectibles,” he said. “We’ve already had a good response to it.”
As one would imagine, Mrozek often attracts a lot of curious onlookers when he goes out to collect rain. When others are running to get indoors, Mrozek goes outside and sets up just about anything to collect as much rain as possible, usually something with the widest base possible, like a tarpaulin or a small kiddy pool. He said this is often a “conversation starter.”
“When we first started, we would go out and get pictures as we were collecting the rain. People were all running to get out of the rain, and we went out because that’s what we were waiting for,” Mrozek said laughing. “We would get some funny looks.”
For more information on Mrozek’s rain collection, visit www.realrains.com. For more on Little Chicago, visit the festival site at www.littlechicagofestival.com.