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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(225 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Great story Todd!

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2lbsurfettes(9 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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(5199 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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, 11 months 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, 11 months ago

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

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6crimelander(122 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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, 11 months 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(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

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

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9author50(1121 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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10lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Good points, Erplane. Let me add one more.


While incredible progress has been made...the downtown is a pig sty. Trash and cigarette butts everywhere. While some buildings do an excellent job in keeping their street fronts clean, the majority seem to care less.

This is NOT a responsibility of the City. It IS the responsibility of the landlords.

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11Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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12lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Do some math Stan before typing.

There are over 5,000 workers employed and spending money downtown 5 days a week, 8 hours a day.

Pretty sure that trumps a couple of hundred college kids spending a couple of hours there on Friday and Saturday nights.

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13Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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14lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

When you talk about professionals Stan, what do you mean?

Like Strollo Architects that is planning a $4million project to convert the Wells Building downtown into their new headquarters?

Like ms consultants, a nationally known engineering firm, that is planning on a $1million addition to their headquarters downtown?

Like Revere Data from San Francisco, which moved their research division to downtown?

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15Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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16lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Stan...if you really want to understand both the problems and the huge upside potential of Downtown Youngstown (which is becoming reality every day), I'd just you work there every day as I do.

The growth is far from its climax.

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17lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Lost Patrol....we're you afraid of being mugged by an eighty year old Youngstown Symphony Patron? One of the little girls at Ballet Western Reserve? Perhaps a high school age Docent from the Oh Wow! Children's Museum? No wait...an eight year old Indian Guide from the YMCA?

All Downtown...all with evening activities.

Stay in suburbs....please!!!!!!

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18lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Sure they were, Lost Patrol, the YMCA is right across the street and many families use it to park. Perhaps you can ask one of the eight year olds to walk you "safely" from your car to the bar.

So let me get this straight. You would never dream of visiting downtown Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus or San Francisco for that matter? Because they have the exact urban problems that Youngstown has.

As I said....please stay in the suburbs!!!

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19Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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20Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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21lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Stan, again, the problem you mention is no different in Youngstown than as in any other city.

That is simply the fabric that goes with an urban environment.

You, at least, point out a problem and offer a possible solution.

Then there are the "haters" who attack the city without justification. To them, I would remind all that Youngstown State University, the Youngstown Symphony, Butler Art, Oh Wow! Children's Museum (you gotta see that place!), the Youngstown Business Incubator's Tech Block (another must see!), the Covelli Center, Ballet Western Reserve, Oakland Center for the Arts, the Central Branch YMCA, the YWCA, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, (wait until their spectacular new building opens next year!)....to name just a few...are ALL in downtown Youngstown.

And to say you can live your entire life in your little suburb without taking advantage of what all these organizations offer....well, you lead a very sad life.

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22author50(1121 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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23crimelander(122 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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24lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

So Lost Patrol, there were similar incidents outside of Austintown and Boardman bars over the last two months as well.

So...Holy Cow...the whole Valley is unsafe for you to venture out into.

You better stay hidden in mommy's basement pounding away on your keyboard all your "hater" messages.

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25WarrenRicheyKid(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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26lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

They "teared gassed" a bar now, did they? Was this before or after airborne secured the flanks when the tanks rolled in for the frontal assault.

Why proffer fact when you can just make crap up, right?

And having a regular bar stool is not the same as "owning downtown property"...Norm!!!!

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27lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

So I called a 17 year YPD veteran currently employed there. The person just laughed at your allegation that tear gas was used at a downtown bar. The person has no recollection of tear gas ever being used anywhere in recent history. Pepper spray, yes, it is used a number of times throughout the city each year. Tear gas...never.

So I searched the Vindy archives. Surely, if "tear gas", which is only used in extreme situations of massive unrest, was deployed, that would have made the paper. Nope. Every incident of pepper spray was chronicled, not one single report of tear gas could be found.

So I googled tear gas/Youngstown. Nope, nothing ever reported on the use of the same, except in labor unrest in the 20's and 30's.

Why do you keep posting this crap?

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28lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Give it up grandpa. Don't know what axe you are grinding, but no one is buying your crap.

There is a huge tactical difference between the use of pepper spray and tear gas. They are enormously different chemically.

And a "pepper spray canister" is never "tossed" as you again allege. The operative word in the name is "spray", so there never was a "gassing the joint" at a downtown bar.

Let me ask you a serious question. When you look up into the sky at night, how many moons are you seeing?

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29Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Pepper spray for rowdy crowds . . ..


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30Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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31lovethiscity(169 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

I give...between the almost 10,000 posts (seriously)) of Stan and LostPatrol...well, I've clearly met my intellectual God.

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32Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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33NBees(53 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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34One_Who_Stayed(240 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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35estarkey7(7 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months 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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