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Bad could become good for Lemon Grove incident



Published: Sun, February 14, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)


I have not been in a bar fight in my life. I did come close to one — at least from my perspective.

I had a couple beers in me (maybe more) one night in my college days, out on the town with the boys, sporting one of my favorite sweaters — a nautical-themed deal with “Providence” across the chest.

A guy looked at me. I heard him ask, “Do you got a problem?”

Testosterone triggered and machismo inflated, I whipped around with a look of disgust and a loaded reply: “No. Do you?”

Seemingly oblivious to my puffed chest and war feathers, he answered, “No, but my brother does.”

Huh?

The guy smiled, pointed at my sweater and walked by. “He says it’s a cool place.”

Oh: “Do you go to Providence?”

How many bar fights result from such silly, isolated situations?

Most of them, I imagine, including the punch at The Lemon Grove in downtown Youngstown that sent state Rep. Bob Hagan to the floor first, then to the hospital for stitches.

The punch that police say was delivered by Dorian Thomas of Youngstown has been a public spectacle.

The story had legs for various reasons — bar fight, black vs. white, old vs. young, politician getting hit and “only in the Valley.”

Pick one. Some picked all.

It was unfortunate for Hagan and his family, for sure.

I believe it was unfortunate for Thomas. He’d been a good Grove customer, has never had an arrest, is a tap dancer and works on campus.

One radio-show caller, who described himself as an older white guy, said he knew Dorian, who’s black, from being around him four or so times per year for several years. This event was completely out of character for him, the man said.

I think it was also unfortunate for Jacob Harver.

The hit could end up hurting him the most.

He owns The Lemon Grove and has a home-equity loan on his house to prove it.

Many folks have made the leap of doing business in downtown Youngstown. The names that resonate with most of the leaders and the public are the Lou Frangoses, the bank buyers, and the boutique business incubator-tech groups.

They pour into downtown with investors and technical research and sizable government backing.

A guy such as Harver pours in with a lot of heart. And not a lot of hairspray.

To look at him and his tossed, stringy hair, you could reason that the last week has been tough on him. But he’s rational about the incident.

“Well, the Vindy message boards have certainly been active,” he said, with a deliberate pause and look at me. “Our regulars know what we’re about and know that the incident was completely out of character for what we are.”

It was the first punch thrown at the place in its six months of existence, which is a feat in itself noting that it’s open until 4 a.m. and is in the middle of the downtown bar scene.

The Lemon Grove is not a bar, but it serves alcohol.

It’s not a restaurant, but it has food till late at night.

It’s not a cultural institute, but it has culture.

Artist James Pernotto has been around West Federal Street for decades and is my unofficial Mayor of Downtown. He said Lemon Grove is just the kind of place Youngstown needs.

“It’s a nice place to hang, to read a book; I do some sketches there,” said Pernotto, who said he buys something there just about once a day — from coffee to a sandwich to some biscotti.

“That’s the kind of venue you need. These are the kind of people who get things going. Then another opens, and there’s a nexus of culture. I think it’s a great place. And what happened is just so out of character for that place,” he added.

And what happened would be undisclosed were it not that Hagan was the victim. Thomas was charged with felony assault.

But that it was Hagan, in a way, becomes an opportunity of sorts.

The Grove is a gathering spot for a cross-section of people, ideas and ideals. Harver said it’s a place that accepts everyone — and seemingly draws them.

On Friday afternoon, a black blues singer was singing to a lunchtime crowd that included a white couple whose age looked to be north of 70, two guys enjoying a specialty coffee, two business-clad folks and a foursome of thirtysomething ladies. Another guy walked in later looking as if he just left the John Mayer concert tour.

Knitting, crocheting and chatting is on tap each Sunday, affectionately titled “Stitch and [a five-letter word that rhymes with stitch].”

Scrabble is Sundays at 9 p.m., and Wii bowling is at midnight.

Youngstown State University- related clubs and authors and events are common.

Live music runs Wednesdays through Saturdays — or whenever else is convenient.

“We’re devoted to the revitalization of Youngstown — culturally and socially,” Harver said. “We believe that the revitalization of Youngstown will be through the arts. We are for-profit. But we have a higher ethical process — and that is to build a better Youngstown.”

Harver is passion over pretension — a passive but persistent demeanor.

Six months in business, he’s still going. He said it’ll be some time before he can collect a paycheck, but he’s hitting his goals.

Given the distraction of the punch and recognizing what the Grove is all about, I think there’s a potential for this episode to be further examined once the dust settles.

Thomas’ dustup with Hagan had threads of race, generations, Youngstown, bad judgment, aggression, etc., that would make for a great group dialogue at the Grove.

And it would be great to have two people on stage leading the chat — Hagan and Thomas.


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