Businesses looking up in downtown

YOUNGSTOWN – The downtown has been going uptown.

In the last few years, new restaurants and bars opening mainly on West Federal Street have pumped life back into a part of town that some had written off.

But one of those business owners, Jacob Harver, co-owner of the Lemon Grove restaurant, said he had never written off the downtown.

A native of the West Side, Harver said he has always been attracted to the downtown. During the down time when it seemed the downtown was on life support, the city’s arts community kept it alive with places like Cedar’s.

Cedar’s recently closed and is moving to the lower West Side because of a dispute with the landlord who owns the building.

Harver, whose restaurant opened in 2009 on West Federal Street and moved two doors down a few months ago, said the streets and buildings downtown offer a unique experience that cannot be duplicated.

”People see the suburbs are boring,” Harver said. ”The city is where the action happens.”

Lyndsey A. Hughes, director of downtown events and special projects for the city, said the trend downtown is not just toward new businesses but also toward living space.

A new apartment complex in the Realty Building has a waiting lost and the Erie Terminal Building has 91 percent occupancy ate with its 65 units, Hughes said. The Federal Building also has 16 apartments up for rent as well, she said.

She said the downtown’s recent resurgence is a combination of several factors.

”I think it’s a combination of restaurants and bars and the entertainment that’s available and the proximity to YSU (Youngstown State University),” Hughes said.

Some observers credit the opening of the Covelli Centre in 2005 and the ripping up of Federal Plaza and restoring Federal Street to two-way traffic again to helping spur growth in the city center.

Roberto Faraglia and Mike Avey have each opened new businesses within the last year, Roberto’s Italian Ristorante on West Federal Street and Joe Maxx Coffee Co. on East Federal Street, respectively.

Avey said he saw a need for a place in downtown that sells real coffee and bakery and lunch items, and he wanted to be in the center of the downtown. He said he was attracted to the location because of the street traffic and the talk of new development downtown.

He said his business opened just over a year ago, and so far business is 20 percent ahead this year what it was at the same time last year.

More retail downtown would also help his business, he said.

”It will bring more people downtown and more people to do business,” Avey said.

Avey said he would like to see a trolley that would go through the downtown and up to YSU to bring more students from campus.

Faraglia said he would also like to see more retail downtown, as did Hughes. Faraglia said he opened up a year ago this month in the site of a former pizza shop and decided to start a business downtown because of the look it has.

”You couldn’t create this look in the suburbs in a strip plaza,” Faraglia said. ”We just love being downtown.”

He said the arena is a boost to business on the weeknights but on the weekends it doesn’t matter if an event is going on there or not because he is always booked.

Faraglia said besides retail, a grocery store would also be good for the downtown, especially for people living there now. Retail would draw people to the downtown and would help his business grow, he said.

”I heard from a lot of customers who wish there were more places to shop,” he said.

For Harver, his business is part of a vision he had as far back as high school to help the downtown come back but capitalizing on its cultural roots.

”That was never a question,” he said. ”I wanted to have some involvement in downtown.”