DOWNTOWN 'There's a big change' in city

More people are coming downtown on weekends, business owners say.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Want to open a business downtown?
There's plenty of help available from the city and other sources, owners of six recently opened downtown businesses said Wednesday night at a meeting of the Youngstown Arts and Entertainment District Association.
"If you want to start something in downtown Youngstown, Youngstown will help you," said Jeff Kurz, one of the owners of Imbibe, a martini and wine bar on West Federal Street in the former First Federal building. He's also a co-founder of the association, which has about 60 members.
About 75 people attended the meeting in the Ohio One building, at which new downtown business owners told their stories and encouraged others to join a growing number of establishments locating downtown.
Weekend visitors
Kurz and others said that an increasing number of people can be found downtown after business hours and weekends.
"People aren't afraid to come down here," he said, noting that more than 500 people visited his bar on a recent Saturday. "People are dying to come back down here."
Most of the business people speaking at Wednesday's meeting are Youngstown natives and several evoked memories of a bustling downtown of decades ago.
"I remember ladies putting on their gloves and fine hats and going downtown to stores like Strouss and Livingston's," said Beth Holly Lindsey, whose husband, Howard, owns an eatery -- named Howard's -- on Federal Plaza.
"This isn't a comeback -- it's a rebirth. We should do this for our children, and show them they shouldn't have to leave Youngstown."
Jim Sutman, who opened the Touch the Moon Candy Saloon on South Phelps Street doesn't have to, at least not to go home from work. He and his wife live in an apartment above his business.
24-hour resident
"There was just something about the city atmosphere," said Sutman, whose store provides employment for some of the 140 handicapped and disabled people he works with through the Iron and String Life Enhancement Center he opened in 2000.
"Take it from someone who's here 24 hours a day," he said. "There's a big change downtown."
In his presentation, Sutman referenced what has emerged as an obstacle to be overcome in locating businesses downtown -- parking issues.
"I get a lot of parking tickets," he said. "But then I probably park where I'm not supposed to. You go pay with a smile, because it's just part of being downtown. The good still outweighs the bad."
Also speaking at the meeting were Glen Shelton, owner of Skeeter's jazz bar; Mike Fonda, owner of The Old Precinct deli on North Phelps Street; and Charlie Staples, owner of Charlie Staples Barbecue on West Rayen Avenue.
"Thirty-one years is a long time in business," said Staples, who started his first barbecue restaurant in Youngstown in 1974. "But it's also only yesterday. The only advice I'd have for you if you're just starting out is, 'Just do it!'"
Encouraging advice
Kurz encouraged aspiring business owners to use the association as a resource to get started. He said the city has offered tax abatements and that grants are available from the city and other sources. Grant writers were available for consultation at Wednesday's meeting.
"We can walk you through what is supposed to be the red tape and help you find where the money is," he said.
Claire Maluso, director of Federal Plaza, said the six businesses are part of an emerging trend in the city.
"It seems like downtown has started to be on the move," she said. "I walked Federal Street one recent Friday evening, and it seemed like the Fourth of July. We want to create a good business environment."
The opening of the Convocation Center this fall will bring more people downtown, but Maluso said she would like to see more different types of businesses.
"The restaurants and bars are great to see, but we also need drugstores, outlet stores and specialty stores," she said.

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