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Toasting an undeniable downtown surge

Published: Sun, August 7, 2011 @ 10:48 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

This morning, an 11 a.m. brunch will mark two years in business for The Lemon Grove restaurant and cultural hub in downtown Youngstown.

It’s two years that have been a lifetime for owner Jacob Harver.

And also for downtown.

Downtown Youngstown, a gasping shell of what it was two generations ago, has had pockets of residential and social business

activity for years, from Café Cimmento in one corner to Cedars in another, to the Draught House and spot places in between. (And you have to mention the Royal Oaks, just on the fringe, as an established downtown place, or the Kennedys will morra you into submission.)

In addition to its places, it’s had its residents, such as Rich Mills and Jimmy Sutman and James Pernotto — all living where they want to live.

But each of them hoping that someday, others may feel the same.

Today just may be the day.

A new neighborhood sprouted up overnight within the last few weeks with the tenants of the Federal Building moving in — 14 units making for 20-some instant neighbors.

A week ago, Al and Fidaa Musleh opened Downtown Circle convenience store, a sparkling place to munch and mingle.

Vernon’s Café is set to open soon the V2 Wine Bar Trattoria on the first floor of the Federal.

And it goes on for about five or six more significant projects in a 12-month span that can’t help but make you stop and say — it’s happening.

“It’s people who are not forced to be downtown due to cheap prices, but who are here because it’s cool,” Sutman said. He moved here in 2000, in part because of cheap prices.

He and his wife live on Phelps Street and moved in after they opened Iron and String Life Enhancement for disabled adults below them. Sutman said he could not afford Boardman office prices of the 1990s. Unwanted downtown space at $44,000 was what he could afford.

The Phelps building was supposed to be offices for their multifaceted ISLE agency, which includes Touch the Moon Candy Saloon — a must-stop for my kids when we’re downtown.

Then his wife, Jill, saw the second floor.

“This is where I want to live,” Sutman recalls her saying.

More are saying that now.

Sutman and Harver point to a collision of reasons, not just one.

It’s Youngstown State University’s new Williamson School of Business; it’s Realty Towers; it’s the Youngstown Business

Incubator; it’s city efforts and tax credits; and it was the now-closed Rosetta Stone restaurant.

And within all these places, it’s the people.

“There’s a new generation that’s not satisfied with living in the suburbs. It’s not our bag,” says Sutman, a former Poland resident, college grad and soccer coach.

Harver remembers sitting at the Imbibe bar years ago for a brainstorming chat about downtown. Just beyond age 21, he and the crew envisioned a downtown that was like any big-city destination, but yet kept what he calls the “quintessential Youngstown — like

Cedars, Royal Oaks or Kravitz Deli.”

“We’ve come a long way from talking to doing, and it has so much more potential,” Harver said.

What’s inspiring and interesting, too, are the names that have gotten

behind this latest surge.

The Gattas are based in Niles; Dominic Marchionda’s company from

Poland is taking on the Erie Terminal building; Strollo Architects’ six decades of Youngstown experience is rolling into a $4 million plan for the Wells Building; Gloria and Roger Jones helped make the Oh Wow! children’s center.

This is not a mix of out-of-town speculators and Internet buyers from North Carolina.

And from a residential perspective, you have to include the decision two years ago by Mike Morley and Anita Lin to be the first folks to buy into an upscale downtown life with Realty Towers. Lin said it’s a decision they don’t regret and has only gotten them more invested in their “neighborhood.”

“Realty Towers has been fabulous for us,” Lin said. “It’s great to walk everywhere. And whenever we have meetings with our groups, we schedule them downtown. We rarely use our car.”

She said at last count, Realty had 14 of the 23 units filled. She and her husband marked their one-year Realty anniversary last year with $100,000 in donations for downtown groups.

They’re also investing in the future with the downtown Paramount Theatre demolition/facade-saving/park effort. And while they’ve decided for the near future to spend more time living in their New York City apartment and less in Realty, Lin said that will only make her and Morley more driven about downtown.

“Our efforts are even more focused because our time here is more limited,” she said.

One of the new Federal residents is Phil Kidd, and where Phil goes, so too does organizing, engaging and assessing.

Friday night was his first Friday night in Federal. And Saturday morning was his first morning-after cleanup walk — his effort to contribute to his neighborhood.

Among the cleanest storefronts of all the nightspots was the Love Lounge, now called Club Xclusive — an 18-month-old urban club that some folks whispered would kill downtown momentum. Well?

And of the night before, Kidd said it was a scene to behold. Crowds spilled out of every nightspot in view of his apartment. Traffic crawled. Police casually walked the street without much adieu. It was a rollicking downtown scene. And the sun rose Saturday.

My grandfather left Ireland as a young man and jumped on a boat for the States. His steamer trunk sits in our Poland living room. I often wonder what his family thought from the shore as the boat faded west into the waves and he eventually found Buffalo.

Crazy and scared, I’d guess initially; but ultimately proud and grateful, I would hope, that someone risked, then gained for themselves and for others.

I hope, pray and expect that 20 years from now, we’ll be able to look down on a thriving downtown and its latest incarnation.

The heated debate that moment will not be if downtown is worth it or not, which seems to nag at us now.

But instead it will be to whom do we give proper credit:

Frangos or Sutman? Mills or Morley? Cedars or Lemon Grove? Gatta or Marchionda? Mayor Williams or Mayor 2013? YSU or YBI?

I’d hope they’d raise a Rust Belt beer and toast them all.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com.


1CongressWatcher(218 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

Great story Todd!

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2lbsurfettes(9 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

Great article. It's nice to see you folks step up and speak positive about your community instead of the extremely negative talk you frequently get about this area.
P.S. Hey Vindicator these are the type of stories that we need to read.

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3southsidedave(5126 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

It is fantastic to hear great news for a change instead of all the usual negative comments!

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4crimelander(122 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

Downtown seems to be working on it's baby steps. That's a good thing and long overdue.

Still an abundance of property available

With so much government money being spent on these projects (especially housing related) - I am wondering what these property owners are doing to lease/sell to different mixed incomes and families?

At current, I don't think any of this new living has included lower income folks.

Failing to integrate is fine if projects are entirely out of pocket private money. When government money is involved it isn't alright.

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5Traveler(606 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

@ crimelander
Its call gentrification its the only thing that will turn youngstown around

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6crimelander(122 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago


Precisely, you hit the nail.

Gentrification is a very flawed, destructive, racist, discriminatory and biased against people for other reasons too (income, families, etc.).

Gentrifying an area with public money HAS to run afoul of laws.

Even with low income housing communities where ownership is the key today, more and more the emphasis is being placed on a certain percentage being purchased by middle class citizens.

It does seem a tad odd using the term gentrification in relationship to a Downtown business corridor, especially one where hardly anyone has lived in quite a while. Youngstown needs to focus on getting businesses into Downtown rather than housing. Way too much emphasis on housing because real estate division games are so profitable and often quick make money and run deals.

I give credit to anyone moving Downtown, really. They are all pioneers. Considering the lack of essential shopping down there and increased emphasis on night life it's a volatile mixture by my standards.

Would be nice to see the VIndy put a master list of these projects together and include the funding behind them.

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7VINDYAK(1824 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

When I think of Pioneers, I think of log cabins, vast plains, and native tribes plundering and raping.

Downtown Youngstown has overcome 2 out of 3. That's not bad, The real pioneers had to call in the Army to get rid of the native pillaging.

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8WarrenRicheyKid(167 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

Great article. Let hear more about downtown's revitalization.

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9author50(1121 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

Downtown Youngstown is one reason this country is drowning in debt - government loaning cash to people to open up bars or convert buildings to apartments. Probably getting property tax abatements, payroll abatements, personal ptoperty tax abatements, reduction in the costs of permits, fees, etc. How much taxpayer money went into all these projects is a better question for Mr. Franko to be asking and how has the return on the investment worked out for the taxpayer an answer I would like to see. Least you forget the B&O and Anthonys on the River and Rosetta Stone. Everyone knows that the bars downtown wouldn't stand a chance if they enforced only 21 and over can legally drink. Love Lounge? Isnt that the place where the beef started that led to the shootings at that Frat House around YSU?

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10Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

The money that the college kids spend is the major part of what is sustaining downtown Youngstown . The return on the money invested is very marginal .

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11Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

Professionals outside of the downtown see no allure to anything offered there . They are voting with their feet and going elsewhere . Much more planning needs to be done to lure those outside of the city that have disposable income to spend .

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12Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

I don't think that Office personnel for Strollo,MS or Revere Data will carry the downtown . We all know the 5,000 workers that you cited go home at the end of their shifts and don't return until the next workday . During the day they are working and only spending at lunchtime . Let's talk about traffic from the surrounding area coming to the downtown . There isn't much . During days gone by there was a flood of traffic coming to downtown Youngstown but not today . I don't believe that those days will ever be revived . The growth that has occured has reached it's climax I believe . Unless industry is lured to Youngstown to generate wealth the cycle of withering will start its next phase .

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13Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

I have been to Cleveland, Columbus and Pittsburgh during business hours . I never had any problems . I'm in downtown Youngstown at various times during business hours and have had no problems . Many haven't been so fortunate . There was a fellow downtown who marked territory like a dogs does in the store fronts . I recommended that the city put in some port-a-johns for him .

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14Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

I have been to Cleveland, Columbus and Pittsburgh during business hours . I never had any problems . I'm in downtown Youngstown at various times during business hours and have had no problems . Many haven't been so fortunate . There was a fellow downtown who marked territory like a dog does in the store fronts . I recommended that the city put in some port-a-johns for him .

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15author50(1121 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

Without taxpayers money proping up every new business and safety forces 'looking the other way,' downtown would have no late night activity.

Hey leaders - take care of your neighborhoods first. In most thriving cities, it is the neighborhoods that are the blood lines to the downtown. Our neighborhoods are just bloody.

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16crimelander(122 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago


Pittsburgh has an issue and has for a number of year with mad urine'ators and random crappers.

The matter is especially obvious and uncomfortable when walking the bridges connecting Downtown to the North and South Sides.

Public urination on storefronts in the Downtown is fairly common elsewhere also.

It's everyone from the bums to the drunkards to the doped up types, some true mental health folks thrown in that mix too.

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17WarrenRicheyKid(167 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

Heck, I love seeing federal dollars support the revitalization of downtown. Why should cities and local governments in Afghanistan and Iraq get all our tax money?

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18Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

Pepper spray for rowdy crowds . . ..


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19Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago


Pepper spray projectile/disperser for countering hostage and barricade situations
Proc. SPIE 2934, 75 (1997); doi:10.1117/12.265400

Conference Date: Tuesday 19 November 1996

Delta Defense Inc. (USA)

An improved less-than-lethal projectile for use in hostage, barricade and tactical assault situations has been developed. The projectile is launched from a standoff position and disperse the incapacitating agent oleoresin capsicum in the form of atomized droplets. A literature search followed by an experimental study were conducted of the mechanism of barrier defeat for various shaped projectiles against the targets of interest in this work: window glass, plasterboard and plywood. Some of the trade- offs between velocity, standoff, projectile shape and size, penetration, and residual energy were quantified. Analysis of the ballistic trajectory and recoil, together with calculations of he amount of pepper spray needed to incapacitate the occupants of a typical barricaded structure, indicated the suitability of using a fin stabilized projectile fired from a conventional 37 mm riot control gas gun. Two projectile designs were considered, manufactured and tested. The results of static tests to simulate target impact, together with live firing trials against a variety of targets, showed that rear ejection of the atomized spray was more reproducible and effective than nose ejection. The performance characteristics of the finalized design were investigated in trials using the standard barrier for testing barrier penetrating tear gas agents as defined by the National Institute of Justice.

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20Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

lovethiscity :

"And a "pepper spray canister" is never "tossed" as you again allege."

Don't go feeling sorry for yourself . If you don't know research . . ..

"Analysis of the ballistic trajectory and recoil, together with calculations of the amount of pepper spray needed to incapacitate the occupants of a typical barricaded structure, indicated the suitability of using a fin stabilized projectile fired from a conventional 37 mm riot control gas gun."

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21NBees(53 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

I'd love to move downtown, but I cannot afford Realty Towers and my income is too high to qualify for International Towers. I was walking around downtown today while waiting on the WRTA and I must say, the cityscape flower plantings beds and plenty of benches give a good vibe to the city.

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22One_Who_Stayed(240 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago


There is a beautiful assisted living facility just up 5th Ave. from downtown called "Park Vista". They have 2 sides to it - an assisted living facility and a nursing home (if you need more help later on). It is across the street from Wick Park and I believe they have shuttle vans that will take you downtown or even out to burbs if you wish.

It's a great facility - you should check it out when you're ready.


Best of luck to you.

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23auntiem4cabs(114 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

Thank God. We need our 'old downtown' back and functional. GREAT story Todd.

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24estarkey7(7 comments)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

@Stan and @TheLostpatrol: I am certainly curious as to what your view of an improved Youngstown would resemble? I also would like to know what businesses you would like to see populate the area. This is an honest question, nothing more.

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