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Going, going ... Avalon Gardens is gone

Published: Tue, April 17, 2012 @ 12:09 a.m.


Those entering the Avalon Gardens auction stand outside as the sale progresses inside the former tavern and restaurant on Belmont Avenue. The contents of the North Side landmark were sold Monday.

By Burton Speakman



Years of North Side history were removed in just a couple of hours when the contents of Avalon Gardens on Belmont Avenue were sold at auction.

Some of those attending Monday just wanted to say goodbye to a Youngstown landmark that had been open 90 years while others were looking for deals to continue their own businesses.

The family of James “Jim” Donofrio, the owner of the tavern, closed the business in January. Donofrio has been missing since late September.

Nancy Donofrio, James’ sister-in-law, said she attended the auction because it was too difficult for most other family members to attend.

“He bought this place about a year ago, and he had great hopes,” she said.

Jim cared about this community and the history of Avalon Gardens, Nancy Donofrio said. This place had one of the oldest liquor licenses in the city.

The sale was a sad ending for Christine Graves, who had worked 10 years at Avalon Gardens. She came to the sale as a way to say goodbye.

“It’s amazing all the people I’ve met through working here, and those that I’m still friends with,” she said.

There are a lot of longtime customers who came to the sale as well.

Two of those customers, Rick Ortz and John Twig, said they had been coming to Avalon for more than 40 years. The pair was part of the group that built the boccie courts at Avalon Gardens.

It is sad for this business to end like this, Ortz said. “I’m the second generation coming here. My mother and father used to come here, too,” he said.

There are not a lot of places left in Youngstown like Avalon Gardens, said Mike Lazazzera, a cousin of James Donofrio.

“It seems like everything is moving to the outskirts, out to [U.S. Route] 224 and [U.S. Route] 422,” he said.

The classic taverns in Youngstown are closing, because it seems people do not want to own businesses in the less-wealthy parts of town, Lazazzera said.

Ondre and Shasta Shabazz come to all of the restaurant auctions in the area, but said they were attracted to the one at Avalon Gardens because of its history.

“We never know what type of theme we’re going to use,” said Ondre Shabazz.

The couple owns So Dog Gone Good hot dog shop and Uptown Theater.

Meanwhile, the missing person case involving James Donofrio continues.

“The FBI has taken over the case, and they’re doing all they can to help us,” Nancy Donofrio said.

Everything about this is still really difficult because the family doesn’t know where he is, Nancy Donofrio said. “They’ve told us for someone who has been missing this long the ending is not going to be good.”

The entire family gets upset every time an unidentified body is found, she said.

Donofrio was reported missing Sept. 25, 2011. He was expected to close the restaurant that night but never arrived.


1sallyrrah(3 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

While I agree with most of the comments from fcb; in this case Avalon closed not because of a lack of business but because of the disappearance of its owner. I was always surprised how busy AG was considering the neighborhood it was in. I just hope the Donofrio family find Jim so they can get closure.

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2republicanRick(1220 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Avalon Gardens failed (and soon Boulevard Tavern) because of high crime in their neighborhoods. Old timers would still visit the two places, but the urban culture of crime and blight will eventually wear them down and out.

Aren't there any black entrepreneurs out there that could make a succesful business at the Avalon Gardens (or Blvd Tavern which is for sale)?

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3JoeFromHubbard(1090 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Rally is correct, the "old money" has passed away and the newer generations have little desire to venture to what appears to be a threatening area of town.

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4VINDYAK(1799 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Our newer generations are no longer new money and they have also left for greener pastures.

The closest family member to my wife and I is 45 miles away. Others are now in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Virginia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

Old money, new money... moved...checked out.

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5georgejeanie(869 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Anybody, other than government pigs at the trough have to leave town to support their families You people who do not work for the government and still live in this dying city, get some balls and move on.

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6sobeit(98 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

My husband and I used to eat here all the time many years ago. Unfortunately we had not eaten there in the last few years. One, because the service and food went downhill, and two because the neighborhood is awful. No one wants to risk their life for mediocre food.

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7Forejjg(21 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

georgejeanie, nice post. Im sick of hearing the whining. It doesn't matter what idiot is in office, the entire Youngstown area is so corrupt that nothing will turn that place around. There was even a DA that left Ytown in the late 90s or early 2000s citing the overwhelming corruption as the reason. He moved back to LA....Really, LA. And for those of you that don't know anything outside of Ytown, that's Los Angeles. Maybe if some people get an education, leave for a while and then return with some perspective, they can try to change that area for the better. Oh, forgot to mention, People that aren't dirty normally don't just go missing. There is usually a reason. My prayers go out to the family. How sad for them.

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8JoeFromHubbard(1090 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Believe it or not, there are some good paying jobs in the Mahoning Valley but you need a good education and sales pitch to have one.

"Sales pitch" meaning proper appearance, poise and language skills.

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