YOUNGSTOWN — Traveling down the 6-mile stretch of Glenwood Avenue between Boardman and downtown Youngstown, it might appear the historic corridor has been forgotten.
The neighborhood’s treasures — beautifully renovated homes and easy access to Mill Creek MetroParks — are obscured by the visibly vacant buildings flanking the heavily traveled road. They’re relics of a more prosperous era when the neighborhood boasted healthy business activity and lively cultural institutions.
The Valley once flocked to the area. Now, folks mostly drive through it.
But if you listen to local entrepreneurs and organizations like the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. better days for the neighborhood are ahead.
Since its 2009 launch, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. has renovated hundreds of existing homes in the Glenwood Avenue area and provided Mahoning Valley residents with a pathway to home ownership.
YNDC is now aiming to use commercial redevelopment to further its mission of bolstering the South Side neighborhood.
On Jan. 25, the organization purchased the multi-unit commercial property at 2915 Glenwood Ave. just across the street from the organization’s Canfield Road office.
The colorful plaza — formerly home to a day care and a soul food restaurant — has been vacant for several years after a fire.
YNDC already owns multiple commercial spaces in the area, but “this one is of particular importance because it’s at a high traffic intersection … which has a lot of visibility,” said YNDC executive director Ian Beniston.
“We really see that as another opportunity to bring some quality of life, retail-type businesses back to the neighborhood,” he said
He’s hoping to lease the space to neighborhood-serving businesses, like a laundromat or child care center.
The next step is renovating the property; one of the spaces contains an intact kitchen and will likely be turned into a restaurant.
In keeping with YNDC’s mission, the organization doesn’t intend to dictate the terms of this new project. The community will be involved, and its input will drive the organization’s leasing decisions.
Hopefully we can get a restaurant that’s culturally appropriate for the setting as well, that people want to be there, something that provides value.
“We’ll certainly get feedback from residents on things they see as a priority and we’ve done that before,” Beniston said. “We have extensive data from listening to residents about things they’d like to see along Glenwood in terms of business types. But ultimately, it comes down to who wants to locate there. Who has a business that can be successful there.”
While the multicolor building at 2915 Glenwood Ave. is YNDC’s first public-facing commercial establishment, it’s not the organization’s first foray into commercial development.
Branch Street Coffee Roasters Owner Matthew Campbell was in need of additional commercial space to support his Boardman business when he saw YNDC was leasing commercial space at 2333 Glenwood Avenue.
“We were looking at maybe calendar year 2022 for acquiring a new space to do our wholesale,” he said. “But this opportunity came up and it was just too good to pass up. It’s very central to a lot of the major roads that we need in order to either ship or deliver a product to our customer base.”
He added YNDC had done a great job updating the space, cutting down the work Campbell would have to do to make it work for his business.
The property will be used for coffee roasting, storage, equipment maintenance and barista training. Campbell intends to have it up and running in the next two months.
“I had no idea that they were going to be venturing into commercial, but that really is ideal for us,” said Campbell. “It fits exactly what we need, because we’re small mom and pop startups that don’t necessarily have a lot of capital and a lot of flexibility that some of the bigger, more established businesses in the area have. So, this is, you know, it’s almost the perfect relationship on a commercial side.”
As a business owner who sells to other businesses, making decisions with the community in mind is important to Campbell too.
“We’ve always been extremely intentional about where we have locations and where we have influence even if it’s a wholesale relationship. We want to make sure whomever we’re helping with the wholesale side of things isn’t necessarily doing it at the suffering of another business,” he said.
Down the road
About a mile away in Cornersburg, along Canfield Road, one of Campbell’s wholesale customers Common Goods Studio opened its doors this week after renovating another highly visible vacant commercial property.
Owner Sheri Bodo didn’t realize the importance of opening a retail space here until she announced her plans to open Common Goods.
Neighbors wrote to her on Instagram, excited they’d be able to talk to the coffee shop.
“I thought it was for the greater good of Youngstown, which it still is, and I’m very happy that is, but I’m getting a better understanding that it’s just doing a lot for this specific area — Cornersburg, the South Side of Youngstown. It’s really rebuilding that, and to be a part of that is something that is greater to my heart and my passions than I ever thought it was,” she said.
The area between Youngstown, Boardman, Canfield and Austintown is “kind of like a desert out here,” Bodo said.
“Being like your neighborhood store is a whole other aspect of getting to know our customers in a different way than if we were somewhere a little bit bigger. We wouldn’t be able to do that because you’d have to drive to get to us”
Bodo shares Campbell’s ethos of cheering on nearby business owners and entrepreneurs and operating with the neighborhood in mind.
The coffee shop sells the wares of various local artisans and makers. Bodo’s already planning outdoor markets this summer in partnership with Greater Life Church across the street.
Making Glenwood walkable
In the midst of the flurry of commercial investment in the area, the city of Youngstown is partnering with the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments to make the area more walkable.
At its Wednesday meeting, City Council approved an application for a U.S. Department of Transportation grant to create a transportation improvement plan for the Glenwood Avenue corridor.
The project aims to increase safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit users as well as improve access to Mill Creek Park.
As it is, “The road is not safe for pedestrians,” said Beniston. “It lacks modern pedestrian infrastructure such as crosswalks, signage, sidewalks free of tripping hazards, lighting and other safety and accessibility enhancements.”
The improvements “would allow residents to walk easily and safely along the corridor.”
“When Youngstown was thriving, there was so much out here, and now it’s just become a residential area,” Bodo said. “But there are so many opportunities now for people to thrive their businesses out here.”