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As Downtown Reinvents Itself, So, too, Must City’s South Side - The Vindicator

“The downfall of Youngstown’s South Side is one of the greatest tragedies in American urban history. It’s hard to imagine how the city as whole can survive in any meaningful way without a stabilized South Side.”

Let that harsh but realistic assessment, written on last year by freelance writer and photographer Sean Posey, serve as a wake-up call and a challenge to those who dream of a renewed era of vibrant commerce along one of the city’s major population and commercial centers.

Fortunately for the future of the South Side, a group of business owners has taken up the challenge to bring new life to the long-decaying South Avenue corridor of Youngstown.

Fourteen business owners and others met late last month at a South Avenue church with Mayor John A. McNally and other city leaders to lay the groundwork for reviving the long dormant South Avenue Merchants Association. We commend the organizers of the effort and wish it success in its goals of uniting business leaders to clean up properties, clear out abandoned eyesores and build new commerce and energy along the heavily traveled thoroughfare.

Its task, however, clearly is monumental. Over the past five decades, tens of thousands of South Side residents have fled the city, leaving behind a decrepit patchwork of abandoned housing and blighted businesses. South Avenue sadly has become the poster child of desertion and decline.

Despite a domino-effect tumbling of businesses — Girves Brown Derby, the Coconut Grove, Boomba’s pirogi palace, Isaly’s Busy Bee, Krakusy Hall, the Splendid Cafe and many others — along South Avenue over the past 20 years, a core group of believers in the potential viability and renewed vitality of the corridor has stuck it out. Today, these visionaries stand as the best hope for halting the corridor’s further decline and for clearing a path for rejuvenation.

B.J. Duckworth, manager of Coca-Cola Bottling’s Youngstown plant in the corridor, said such a group is “the first step in a process to unite the businesses together to show we support the area. We’d be able to leverage resources and manpower for all the businesses to work together and be more successful.”


Toward that end, we urge the budding merchants’ group start with aggressive planning and meticulous organization. Recruit as many members as possible. Do the necessary paperwork to ensure proper status for grant eligibility. Draft a detailed mission statement. Plan for regular meeting dates, places and times. Organize visible and inclusive community events.

The group already has organized a large community cleanup Friday. From noon to 2 p.m., businesses along the South Avenue corridor will get down and dirty in the association’s Neighborhood Clean Sweep from noon to 2 p.m.

The association is asking business owners to sweep sidewalks, clean properties and clear nearby vacant lots of debris. We’re certain those businesses would appreciate any and all help from supporters of their mission from the South Side and all sides of the city and its suburbs.

Such sustained teamwork will make a difference in the long-term stability and potential achievements of the group. Therefore, the association should work cooperatively to strengthen its public-private sector partnership with city leaders, reach out to community groups such as the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., and gather valuable advice from other business associations.

One such group, the Downtown Business Alliance of Youngstown, has witnessed considerable progress in reinventing and re-energizing downtown. Ten years ago, the central business was almost left for dead. Today, dozens of new businesses, industries, restaurants and specialty stores keep the downtown buzzing with activity weekdays and pulsating with thousands of diners, nightclubbers and concert goers most weekends.

A similar transformation can happen for South Avenue. Let that metamorphosis begin Friday with maximum participation and eye-turning results in the Clean Sweep.

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