YOUNGSTOWN Elite social club marks 100th year

A longtime downtown Youngstown club is making changes to attract a new generation of members.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Jazz trios, clam bakes and Jimmy Buffet nights ... at the Youngstown Club?
The longtime private downtown club is shedding its staid, conservative image to appeal to a new generation of members as it celebrates its 100th anniversary this week.
"We're changing. We're loosening up a little bit," said president Chuck Petzinger, who grew up coming to the club for dinner with his parents in the straight-laced days when children were to be seen and not heard.
Petzinger, who took over the top job in May, and Stacey Renszel, who was hired as general manager in February, are working to blend the tradition of elegance, fine food and service with a more casual, family-friendly atmosphere.
"I have a 7-year-old, and she loves it here," he said. "She knows her way around."
Renszel said members of every age have embraced the special events she's planned -- the Jimmy Buffet night, a clambake, an evening of Frank Sinatra -- and membership has grown by 30 since she signed on. The club roster lists about 380 members.
The club's 100th Anniversary Jubilee, a black tie-optional event Saturday evening, will include cocktails, dinner, dancing and music by the Rick Barber Trio. Seating is limited, so the event will be open mostly to members by reservation only.
Renszel, who managed private clubs in the Cleveland and Akron areas for 11 years before coming to the Youngstown Club, calls the facility "a jewel."
Because of its location on the fourth and fifth floors of the Commerce Building downtown, many Valley residents are unaware of the club, she said. Its exposure has increased, however, since members agreed about two years ago to start renting the dining rooms and meeting rooms to the public for private parties, weddings and meetings.
"Our business is growing, mostly by word of mouth," Renszel said. "People attend a party or a meeting here; they like it, so they tell their friends."
Veteran Youngstown Club employees like Jim Blackshear and Tim Rogers have seen a host of changes since they started decades ago.
Rogers, 46 and assistant manager, said he was hired as a dishwasher 24 years ago and advanced through the ranks. "I can remember when ladies weren't allowed in the dining room at lunch," he said.
Blackshear, 74 and now the captain of the club's elegant, cherry-paneled John Young Dining Room, has been there more than 30 years. He recalls the 1963 fire that destroyed the club's former location on the top floors of a downtown bank building and the eventual move in 1989 to new quarters in the Commerce Building.
Both said they've developed friendships there that make their work more than just a job.
Rogers said he's been invited to members' homes and recently visited a longtime member at the hospital.
Blackshear sticks around, even though he retired long ago from his other job at the post office, because the club and its members have become like another family to him.
"I know these people," he said, grinning. "I don't want to leave."

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