Warren Homecoming 2016 deemed a success

WARREN – For organizers of Warren Homecoming, the four-day weekend was more than a series of nice events. It brought home the fact that big and positive things can happen in the city.

“I’m extremely happy with the results of this weekend,” Warren Homecoming 2016 organizer Dennis Blank said. “Most of the things that happened I would absolutely do again. We had so much positive response.”

Blank said there is not an official tally of the number of people who attended the four days, but the weekend’s largest event, Taste of Warren, had more than 1,000 attendees on Saturday.

Some events had no more than a half dozen people, while others attracted several hundred people.

“We will never have a very good handle of the number of people who came out this weekend,” Blank said. “But this is definitely something worth doing again.”

There definitely will be a Warren Homecoming next year, he said.

Blank said what surprised him the most was the emotional impact the homecoming weekend had on many people that attended.

“It made people feel good about Warren,” Blank said. “There is good stuff here that is worth sharing and celebrating.”

While the Warren Homecoming 2016 was created by Blank and supported by various businessmen and community activists, it was a series of more than 30 individual events that were purposely held on the same weekend to create a synergy that made the weekend an overall success.

“This was truly a community led event,” Blank said. “There were street parties occurring that we did not know about until the day of the event.”

“In planning this, we were careful not to tell organizers that their ideas were bad, or where or when they could have an event,” he said. “We encouraged local participation.”

Paul Clouser, a local businessman and an early supporter of the weekend, held an invitation-only reception Friday evening for people that left Warren and came back for the weekend’s events mixed with local movers and shakers that stayed in the area and found success. The party was co-sponsored by the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.

Clouser said he personally spoke to at least three individuals that expressed interest in either wanting to invest in local businesses, donate to a local charity and, perhaps, open a new business.

“We have to wait until things begin to shake out, but to get that kind of interest is a positive sign,” Clouser said.

Of the public events, Clouser said Saturday’s Taste of Warren, in conjunction with the Art Hop, clearly had the most interest among the participants.

“The majority of restaurants ran out of food,” Clouser said.

Both Blank and Clouser said the event was successful partly because it was organized and run by residents and community organizations, not city government.

“I think there is a large group of city residents that always have wanted to do what is best for Warren and was previously not given an opportunity to do it,” Clouser said. “This was a think big scenario. Warren is a great community. Sometimes you have to think big and go bold. In this instance it worked.”

Tony Schofer, manager of the Speakeasy Lounge in the basement of the Best Western Hotel, 139 North Park Ave., said they had more than 300 people come in and socialize from 2 p.m. Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday morning.

Speakeasy, which is owned by Pam Schofer, Tony’s wife, opened its doors about four weeks ago.

“This easily was our biggest crowd,” Tony Schofer said. “It was twice the number of people we were expecting.”

Tony Schofer said Warren Homecoming not only brought expatriates back to the area, but also gave area residents who don’t normally come to Warren a reason to visit downtown and see the positive changes taking place.

“Homecoming really improved the image of downtown warren,” Schofer said. “Downtown Warren is a wonderful and a safe place. Warren Homecoming was a good introduction to what we have to offer.”

Jennifer Campbell, owner of J. Saul Campbell Marketing in Liberty, sponsored a business legacy award Friday afternoon at which Sam Covelli of Covelli Enterprises, Frank Manios of Franklin Pharmacy, John Payiavlas of AVI Food Systems Inc., Diane Sauer of Diane Sauer Chevrolet and Dr. John Vlad of Vlad Pediatrics were given keys to the city for their continued operations in the city and support of various city projects.

“We were excited to be a part of such a tremendously important weekend,” Campbell said. “I hope this becomes a tradition and is done every year.”

Warren resident Bob Moody and his wife, Kathy, attended nearly a dozen of the events that happened over the four days of Warren Homecoming.

“This was wonderful,” Moody said. “There were some things that I learned about the city, and I have lived in the area all of my life.”

rsmith@tribtoday.com