The Growing City of Grit

By Brigid Donofrio

Since its birth in 1795, Youngstown, Ohio, has become one of the most underestimated and unique places in the world.

Youngstown is home to pop culture icons like Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Warner Bros and the original Arby’s. That’s just the tip of the iceberg with things this steel city has to offer.

Youngstown has been given the prestigious title, “Home of Grit.” Although this is only a recent recognition, it has been the city of perseverance, triumph and yes, grit. Whether you moved here or lived here all your life, you know there’s something about Youngstown, Ohio, you can’t find anywhere else in the world.

The city of Youngstown has been described as a “big small town” with industrial ups and downs. Recently, business has been coming back, but for a while, it went away almost completely.

One thing Youngstown has been known for is its steel mills. From the 1940s-1970s, the steel mills kept Youngstown on the map. When the mills shut their doors for good, unemployment rose, and the economy and population plummeted.

The closing of the steel mills had a ripple effect in downtown, resulting in the main department stores, Strouss’ and McKelvey’s closing.

“For over 100 years, our downtown supported two major department store anchors, McKelvey’s and Strouss’,” said Mike Timlin, owner of Timlin Plumbing and Heating. “McKelvey’s closed in ‘82, then Strouss’ in ‘85, and there was not enough people or businesses to support them.”

“Soon after, most of the smaller stores closed,” Timlin added. “A lot of the store fronts got boarded up and remained that way for some time.”

Timlin Plumbing has been in downtown Youngstown since 1982 and has always been a huge supporter of all things Youngstown.

“We chose to open shop downtown for a few good reasons. First, due to the bad economy, there was a lot of available space to rent at good prices,” Timlin said. “Also, we felt at that time, and still do now, a downtown Youngstown mailing address gave the company some credibility as a legitimate business, which was very important as a young startup.”

Timlin was born and raised in Youngstown and says he is excited to see what the city has up its sleeves.

“The amphitheater and the adjacent park are going to be a phenomenal boost to downtown. A hidden gem in that project is going to be the street located beneath the Market Street bridge,” he said. “Add to that all the different plans that are still being worked on, such as Fifth Avenue, Phelps Street, the Front Street bike trail, maybe even an autonomous self-driving trolley linking YSU.”

Photos by J. Harvard Feldhouse

When it seemed like hope was lost for incoming businesses, the doors to The Covelli Centre opened and continues to welcome almost 6,000 people per concert, hockey game or any kind of entertaining event you can attend.

The Covelli Centre continues to be a major landmark in Youngstown, and it was the first spark to fuel the fire of bringing back downtown. If you were to visit downtown today, you have dozens of restaurants to choose from, a concert venue, a hotel chain, a live theater, museums, banks, the YMCA and even a place to go if you have a business idea.

Youngstown is home to one of the best business incubators around. In 2015, the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI) was ranked first for business incubators associated with a university.

“The YBI continues to help young entrepreneurs in pursuing any business goal, but their main specialty is technology. In addition to helping aspiring entrepreneurs, the YBI is a host of diverse programs that include women’s entrepreneurship programs, and IYBI (International Youngstown Business Incubator) which is bringing business operations from overseas to northeast Ohio, specifically Youngstown,” said Corey Patrick, Youngstown State University alumni and director of marketing and communications.

“The YBI is one of the hosts for the Minority Business Assistance Center, which is business counseling to any minority or economically disadvantaged business owners,” he added.

Patrick said the YBI is working on building out their currently offered services.

“Keep your eyes and ears open because there’s more details to come,” he said. “What we do at the Incubator is provide one-on-one business-related services, so we work with anybody that has a business startup already, or a business startup idea.”

“Anything that is technology-based, anything that is 3D printing and anything with software is primarily what we work with,” he added. “We do have additional programs, but technology-based is what we’re really good with working with.”

Patrick said he hopes to see more projects develop downtown in the future.

“We need retail. We need something more than bars and restaurants. Downtown is segmented so I would like to see that dwindle a bit,” he said.

Businesses can’t seem to get downtown fast enough. On Nov. 5, SLU Luxury Salon & Spa officially opened alongside The Smoothie Bar and The Starting Lineup Barber & Beauty Shop in Realty Tower.

The Youngstown native and owner of all three businesses, Jerome Franklin, told WKBN news, “We have to take care of ourselves from the inside out. We want to look good at times so this is one stop shop where you can eat good, feel good about yourself and just live life.”

The Smoothie Bar resides where the Joe Maxx Coffee shop was before it moved near the YBI. The Smoothie Bar offers a variety of menu options such as paninis, wraps, specialty smoothies and customizable smoothies. During the grand opening of The Smoothie Bar, a ceremony was held outside the new location.

“There is a lot of space available to expand and grow,” Franklin said. “That’s how Youngstown will come back: if we come together and create businesses.”

Come together and create. A simple, yet salient sentence. Youngstown still has the heart and spirit that it did when the skylines were filled with factory smoke, and it’s up to students, workers and citizens in Youngstown to keep that spirit alive.

Big ideas and the continuation of creating beautiful things benefit everyone in Youngstown. The closeness, the heart and the energy are the main components bringing the city back to life.

The city of grit is back on the rise, and it doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon. How lucky that this growth is happening in our lifetime and citizens get to participate and indulge in everything offered by Youngstown, Ohio.