YOUNGSTOWN Summit urges South Ave. unity

A phone system and business 'block watch' were proposed at the meeting.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Say somebody slips a counterfeit $20 bill to a business on the 2200 block of South Avenue.
With one phone call, every shop along the commercial corridor could be alerted to watch for the suspect and the funny money.
Same goes if there's a bad check floated or a robbery in one of the city's few remaining active business districts.
That's the type of cooperation needed if those businesses are to remain and prosper. Fostering those connections was the reason behind a South Avenue "business summit" Wednesday at Krakusy Hall.
Area businesses made strong efforts some years ago to get the South Avenue bridge re-opened. That same effort is needed now to keep the commercial stretch healthy, said Bert Toth of the Himrod Co., vice president of the South Avenue Merchant's Association.
About a half-dozen business owners came to hear about improvement efforts within the commercial district.
The goal is to make South Avenue a more attractive place to do business, said Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, who organized the two-hour event.
Crime has increased recently, with area businesses seeing more robberies and break-ins over the past 18 months or so, Swierz said.
The city is doing its part with police protection and road paving, he said. Police added bike patrols recently along South Avenue. The city paved the road from Williamson to Indianola avenues.
Next year, the city will pave the stretch from Indianola to Midlothian Boulevard, Swierz said.
Phone system: Police Detective Sgt. Jack Palma described how the CityWatch telephone system can help the business district. The same system is used to pass information among city block watch groups.
One business owner can record a message on the system alerting others about crimes, suspicious people or even merchant association events.
A computer calls all those who sign up for the system and relays messages within minutes of a report.
Lt. Rod Foley explained how the city's first known business crime watch would be set up. The groups would be modeled after city block-watch clubs.
Such groups would create relationships among businesses and police that could reduce crime and help owners get their problems solved, he said.
Businesses are welcome in the federal Weed and Seed neighborhood improvement program, said Veronica Foster, the coordinator. Businesses are vital to restoring neighborhoods, she said. Most of South Avenue is within the Weed and Seed program boundaries.

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