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MONDAY UPDATE: Fed & Phelps & a special place

Published: Sun, December 9, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

READ LETTER HERE from a concerned client/citizen

Downtowns are special places in the histories of cities.

And within those special places, there are usually special corners or intersections.

Hollywood and Vine. Haight and Ashbury. Harvard Square. Broadway and 42nd Street.

Post-1970 downtown Youngstown is hardly in the league of those places.

But we have a special place, and it is special these days to even more people every day.

While Federal Plaza is the heart of downtown, I would venture to say that the key intersection to our downtown resurgence is Fed & Phelps.

The Federal Building, V2 and Roberto’s restaurants, Downtown Circle, Lemon Grove and more are tied to that intersection.

And for the last four years, one business owner who has had a fondness for downtown and a front row seat at Fed & Phelps is Lisa Reali, she of William Leonard’s Extraordinary Gentlemen salon — and my hair cutter.

To measure what downtown has done in her four years, consider what you could see from Lisa’s corner spot when she opened in January 2009:

The Sops were the big kids on the block with their Rosetta Stone restaurant. They had plans for this and plans for that, and just wait what they would do next.

Jacob Harver still was gathering second-hand tables, chairs and wood for something that would be called The Lemon Tree or A Lemon Grove or something like that.

The Federal Building housed Geo’s used/new record store and a something-or-other gift shop/ice cream stand/fresh oranges store.

And Tomasino’s served up some pretty good pizza from a past-its-prime storefront.

Now four years later ...

Harver is a conscience for downtown and has expanded The Lemon Grove into the Sops’ Rosetta Stone that had abruptly closed.

Weathered Tomasino’s has become beautiful Roberto’s, serving a great fried bologna and egg sandwich.

Federal’s transformation is simply stunning, and home to V2 restaurant and apartments.

More is coming when Jackie and Dominic Marchionda open The Wick as a hotel in the next 18 months or so. And when Jim Sutman opens his bakery. And when a new pizza place opens on the next block. And more ...

And, it will all happen without Lisa at her familiar storefront.

Success for some can cause casualties for others, and thus Lisa will be vacating her lease.

I caught her at a bad moment several weeks ago as she was first processing her fate. She’s a feisty Italian single mom, and at that moment, she was drained.

“I failed ...,” she said that day, leaning on Roberto’s sidewalk fence.

No, you did not, I said. Things change, and she was changing with it.

She’s reopening on the other side of downtown soon in 2013.

I caught her in a better place this week as she plugged away at my thinning dome.

“I would not have changed my initial plan,” she said when asked what she’d do differently.

She peaked at seven staffers who cut, massaged, manicured, pedicured and entertained.

“My idea was contingent on growth of downtown. Daytime business growth has not been as strong as nighttime growth,” she said.

Like many recent downtown entrepreneurs, she was Youngstown-proud and persistent when she opened at Fed & Phelps as opposed to a suburban strip plaza.

In that way, Reali, Harver and Sutman are kindred spirits of sorts. The latter have distinct thoughts on the challenges of doing business in downtown.

“We had some great chats, and we’re in the same boat,” Harver said of Reali. “We were in this for the same reasons. I fear to lose some of those quintessential people who are priced out. Where will they be in this new Youngstown?”

Sutman is a self-made business person, too. He said it’s tough when you are on your own and you need city help and neighbor help and property help.

“I spent my first years mad at who wouldn’t help. Then I learned it was better to embrace who would help,” Sutman said.

Lisa’s was not a failed bid, and lots of cool things and people passed through her Fed & Phelps doors.

She first introduced several of us to the Movember male-cancer awareness efforts. I grew a laughable mustache that first year and still see two guys from Turning Technologies who joined the same day as me. (They looked good with face fur. Now, I just donate to Movember).

“I remember when I opened and [was] going through the chamber book and remembering names of businessmen who I wanted to walk through my door. They now are — some did in the first six months; some in the last six months.”

She knows they’ll be with her when she reopens on downtown’s other half.

We’ll be happy, too, truth be told.

Before she got to seven staffers and this treatment and that treatment, William Leonard’s was our little social club, with some special club perks for regulars.

Being bigger bagged that.

Owning a business is not for everyone.

Owning one in a pioneer downtown is for even fewer.

Lisa’s still of the few, and there’s no failure in that.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes e-mails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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