WARREN - Downtown business owner Jim Economos doesn't often see his sister, who lives out of state, but when he does, he always can count on her for brutal honesty.
So when his sister, Demetra Black, came for a visit earlier this year, it wasn't a surprise that she told her big brother exactly what she thought of the Saratoga Restaurant facade after taking a stroll around the block.
"She said, 'Your storefront is the ugliest one in downtown,'" Economos' daughter Jennifer relayed with a chuckle as she sat beside her father at one of the tables in a dining room adjacent to the restaurant's main room.
So within three days after Black's departure for home, Economos said they went to work to upgrade the front.
The Saratoga Restaurant, operating on East Market Street near Courthouse Square in Warren since 1916, has been owned since 1935 by the Economos family.
"We have been in the same location ever since 1916 with the original booths. In 1960, we took over this room because a candy store that was here moved to Youngstown Road," Economos recalled. And through the years, the owners have done regular upkeep, he said.
"We have done some work on it, new carpeting, new flooring, new ceilings, light fixtures, but the booths are original," he said.
And with that in mind, Economos and two of his children who serve as his business partners, Chrisi and Eric Economos, knew they wanted to keep the historic appearance while still improving it.
For some direction, they turned to Anthony Iannucci Jr., executive director of Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp.
Iannucci said WRAP reviewed the design and made some other recommendations that would help to beautify the facade while maintaining the historic preservation.
And now, about $16,000 later, the building has taken on a new awning with energy-efficient LED lighting, new windows, a fresh new color scheme by Masterpiece Painting, and professionally power-washed bricks.
WRAP's involvement also meant the ability to recoup up to $5,000 of the price tag through a Warren Community Development grant set aside to help downtown businesses improve their storefronts, Iannucci said. The city's facade grant program can provide a third of the cost of improvement, up to $5,000, if the design is approved by a WRAP design committee.
Iannucci said he now has targeted a handful of other downtown businesses in an attempt to encourage them to upgrade their facades as well.
Economos said he was thrilled with the result and with WRAP's help.
"When you see something everyday, you don't give it a lot of consideration, but when my sister brought it to our attention, she was absolutely 100 percent right," Economos said.