YOUNGSTOWN -- Ten years after Chet Bolender had an idea for a business, he was finally able to put all the pieces together and opened up Front Page News & amp; Smoke on March 1, 1999.
"In 1989, when my son was born, I noticed that there was an empty little Photomat building in the middle of a parking lot in Austintown. I thought that this would be a great place to have a drive-through lottery and sell other small items like pop, cigarettes and newspapers.
"I pictured the business having regular customers whom we would get to know, and they would stop by to talk to us," Bolender said.
But the plans were put on the back burner when Bolender and his wife, Donna, had their second child, a girl, within 10 months of their first child.
Bolender moved out of his parents' house when he was 19. "At 19 I began supporting myself. I did dry walling, painting and odd jobs. I lived on my own even when I didn't have a job. I'm the kind of guy who doesn't like to sit around. Even back then, I had a desire to own my own business," he said.
He eventually found full-time employment in the steel mills, but that was short-lived when after three years the mills closed. He then began working at Fireline, a local industrial ceramics company.
"I was working at Fireline for about 13 years when I began hearing rumors that the business was going to be sold, rumors that turned out to be false. But at the same time I was nearing 40 and the job was getting too physical for me," said Bolender.
He added, "I've always liked change, and the Fireline job was very repetitious, so I decided it was time to quit and fulfill my dream of starting my own business. It was and still is a great company to work for. I appreciate everything they did for me, and I still have a lot of friends there."
While starting the business, he worked as a substitute bus driver for the Youngstown City Schools. Eventually he became the operations supervisor for Mahoning County 911.
The ideal business
Bolender said he wanted a business where people could buy their newspapers, cigarettes, snacks and pop quickly and pay a reasonable price. "That's pretty much our philosophy. We like to think of ourselves as the best kept secret on the South Side," he said.
While driving down South Avenue to work he noticed that a little building at the end of Mabel Street was empty. Originally the building was a Dog House, one of several area hot dog shops popular in the 1950s and 60s. More recently it was a coffee shop.
Bolender's dream to have a place where regular customers come in to visit has come to fruition. "I feel that Youngstown gets such a bad rap. We have so many nice people that come in here. We are all in the same boat.
"We feel so close to some of our customers. People who have quit smoking still come here just to visit, and we really appreciate their company," he said.