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Youngstown light-up night, parade kick off holidays

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Gracie Runge, 8, of Struthers, is thrilled as the Christmas tree is lit for the holiday season in downtown Youngstown. The annual Holiday Parade and Light-Up Night drew thousands of people Friday evening.

YOUNGSTOWN — For several people with a vested interest in the city’s continued growth, a beloved family-friendly and holiday-themed event is another gift to be placed under the tree.

“We view ourselves as a big part of the downtown family and the Mahoning Valley region,” Marvin Logan, director of OH WOW! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, said.

Logan was referring to Friday’s annual Holiday Parade and Light-Up Night, to which thousands of people filled downtown to usher in the holiday season. The event was capped via the lighting of the official Christmas tree on Central Square.

Sponsors were the city of Youngstown, Downtown Youngstown Partnership and Youngstown CityScape. Premier Bank was the title sponsor.

Logan added that he sees events such as the parade and tree lighting as a way to spread holiday cheer, but perhaps more importantly, as a colorful and festive symbol of progress the city continues to make. People who have positive experiences and enjoy offerings in the corridor likely will tell others — a powerful way to further chip away at any lingering negative perceptions of the city, he explained.

“This is what the Valley is all about,” Logan said, referring to the sense of unity and camaraderie that filled the air Friday.

“I think people are ready for it,” Erin Lonsway, who owns Bella Amica Casual Boutique at 19 W. Federal St., said.

Lonsway, who has run the boutique for about two years, added she’s grateful to be part of an effort to bring more retail businesses downtown and push for shopping locally. Also, she feels the apparel and novelty shop can serve as an incentive for other businesses to invest in the corridor, Lonsway explained.

When the downtown road construction wraps up, the city will “continue to thrive,” she continued.

A key part of Friday’s event was the Flea on Phelps along Phelps Street, which has been converted to a pedestrian walkway. An estimated 65 vendors filled two blocks and sold everything from custom jewelry, clothing and Christmas ornaments to handcrafted and recycled materials and vintage license plates.

In addition, wafting through the area were the sounds of soft holiday and jazz tunes, courtesy of Katherine O’Neill of Boardman and Nick Frank of Lowellville, who played the violin and electric guitar, respectively, as they sat outside of Spruce Home Decor & Gift Store. They also are members of the Silver Bridge Strings, named after the well-known bridge in Mill Creek Park.

“It feels kind of like you’re in a Hallmark movie,” O’Neill said about the festive atmosphere that surrounded her.

Within the last five years, O’Neill has seen many millennials and other young people who believe in Youngstown’s well-being open businesses in and near downtown, such as Culturehouse Coffee Co. on the North Side next to Youngstown State University, she added.

“I think it’s going to keep getting better,” O’Neill said, adding that she sees downtown’s revitalization also spreading into area neighborhoods.

On Friday, she and Frank played several traditional holiday tunes from the popular 1965 film “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The duo also dabbled in a bit of jazz as they provided their rendition of songs from the likes of legendary trumpeter Miles Davis.

Music also came from the other end of the walkway, where Hank Willard of Struthers played his tenor saxophone, with an accompanying music track. Willard, who’s part of a duo called Blue Deuce, entertained many passers-by with plenty of jazz and Christmas tunes.

An estimated 13 high school marching bands from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties participated in the parade that began and ended at the Covelli Centre. The pageantry returned after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses, agencies and organizations represented in the parade included the YMCA and YWCA of Youngstown, Vault Hair Salon & Barbershop, Northeast Ohio Adoption Services, Awesome Aquatics, the Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley, Express Junk Removal, Penguin City Beer and Eastern Gateway Community College.

At the parade’s end was Santa Claus on a chariot, followed by the Youngstown Police Department.

Also happy with Youngstown’s regrowth is Derrick McDowell, who runs the Youngstown Flea.

Walking through the downtown corridor now gives many people a “big city experience” in many ways like Chicago or New York City largely because so much more is offered in the area, which continues to be a vital piece to the larger community, McDowell explained.

Many businesses have survived the pandemic — another fact that is allowing remaining negative perceptions and narratives of the city to shift and change. Friday’s holiday event also was part of that effort, he continued.

“I want folks to know we can’t do this without them,” McDowell said.

The event capped off with the traditional lighting of the 36-foot blue spruce tree, which led to cheers, numerous cellphone photographs and lots of hugs.

In addition, OH WOW! hosted a free open house. Chip Banks, a disc jockey with Loud 102.3, played additional music on the square.

news@vindy.com

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