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A Busy, and Not So Busy, Route 422

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WARREN, Ohio – There isn’t much to see along the northern section of U.S. Route 422 in Trumbull County. It’s mostly homes, separated by tree lines and occasionally small woods, on both sides of the four-lane divided highway.

A few businesses call this stretch home – out this way it’s Warren-Burton Road – and the economic center of the county, about 12 miles down the road at the Eastwood Complex, can feel a world away.

“Most of the business I see is the travelers from 422,” says Iwona Kulacz, owner of the Half Way Restaurant, 4283 Parkman Road in Southington, just a few miles from the Trumbull-Portage County line. “Sometimes it’s really good and sometimes it slows down. There used to be a lot of trucks out here, but not any more. But it’s still decent.”

As she talks, a semi-tractor trailer with Virginia license plates pulls out and a couple climbs out of a lifted pickup with Florida plates. The split between truck drivers and other customers used to be about 70-30, but today is closer to 50-50, she says.

The shift isn’t anything to be concerned about, she says. Next year, the restaurant will get city water for the first time, which will certainly help, she says, and customer loyalty isn’t fading, not at all, for the 34-year-old restaurant.

“We get a lot of travellers and over the years, although some of the regulars have passed,” she says. “I can’t complain. I’ve always gotten very good support from the local people.”

Route 422 begins to look more like the business corridor it’s known as at the interchange with the Warren Outer Belt, state Route 82. Just south, Blue Jean Farms owner Betsy Miskolcze makes a very clear distinction between where her store is and what can be found further down the road.

“This is Parkman Road,” she says bluntly. “That down there is Route 422.”

While there’s been considerable development around 422 in Niles, the farther away you get from the Eastwood Mall Complex, the less development you see. A mile down the road from Blue Jean Farms, next door to a senior living high rise nearing completion, a once-bustling plaza with a Kmart, small stores and restaurant is boarded up.

“It’s a shame,” Miskolcze says. “It would have been a perfect thing for those people, to be able to walk around back there. They’ve talked for months about putting something in there, but I don’t know when they’ll do it.”

But for Blue Jean Farms, 3850 Parkman Road NW, there’s nowhere else to be. There’s nowhere else further south along 422 that the farm, which grows its own flowers, plants and Christmas trees, could do what it does. Besides, “We’ve been here forever,” she says, which has helped build the following of customers who stop by, whether weekly during the summer or once a year for a Christmas tree.

“When I first moved here, it was all boarded up. I told my husband he was crazy. It was nothing,” she says. “There were no greenhouses, no nothing. We just went on until it gets to where it is today.”

On the opposite of end of Route 422, near the Trumbull-Mahoning County line, Girard has similar problems. New restaurants along the strip are always coming in and moving out, says Jeff Mahood, director of operations at the headquarters of Boardman Medical Supply, 300 N. State St.

“If you go from where [Interstate] 80 is to where we are, you’ve got a couple restaurants that seem to be in and out. They don’t stay too long,” he says. “They’re not mainstays like Amen Corner right off 422. Gas stations come and go. IGA is closing.”

The closing of Santisi’s IGA is a question mark that looms over the Girard strip, Mahood notes. While he lacks concrete numbers, he’s sure there was some overlap business between the supermarket and Boardman Medical Supply.

What has proved an advantage for the company since it relocated its headquarters to Trumbull County two decades ago, he adds, is the volume of traffic that fills the corridor, from both north and south, and where it intersects with Interstate 80.

“Though, right now that isn’t the easiest,” he says with a laugh. “We still get a decent amount of traffic, even if people are taking the back way up 422. I’ve got no complaints.”

Alongside the widening of I-80, the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber is facilitating the Route 422 Corridor Project to improve the appearance of a three-mile stretch of the road, including the segment from the Mahoning-Trumbull County line to Liberty Street in Girard.

Among the plans are streetscape enhancements, parks, resurfacing the road and the creation of a business association. In total, the chamber has secured more than $5 million in public and nonprofit funding for the project.

“Quite a bit of it has to do with creating a first impression,” says project manager Lauren Johnson. “This is a major gateway into the Mahoning Valley, for downtown Youngstown, downtown Girard, downtown Warren and three industrial parks plus Vallourec.”

Not everyone who drives along route 422 stays on the road its entire length. They take back roads and detours to get where they need to go, avoiding the congestion of Trumbull County’s primary thoroughfare.

And as more buildings go up in Niles around the Eastwood Mall Complex, that traffic stands only to increase. Between 2010 and 2014, some 11,500 cars a day crossed the stretch of 422 in front of the mall, while the segment south of the intersection with state Route 46 handled nearly 18,000, according to the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. Those numbers make route 422 one of the most-driven roads in Trumbull County, surpassed only by the Warren Outer Belt and the county’s segments of I-80.

Over the past few years, several plazas have been erected around the Eastwood Mall. So have hotels that provide shelter and a respite to traveling customers. Most of the new stores are chain stores and for some small-business owners, these additions cause mixed feelings.

“It’s a hope for more traffic and growth, but there’s always a possibility that it could hinder us,” says Sarah Waldinger, an employee of Ghossain’s Gourmet Mediterranean Foods, 6261 Youngstown-Warren Road. “The small businesses are hoping, ‘New people, more loyal customers, more people coming around more often.’ But there’s still that hesitation of ‘It’s something bigger and it’ll take away from local business.’ ”

With so many stores in such a compact area, notes Do-Cut Treasurer Lisa Miller, it falls to small businesses to stand out and promote themselves. In early December, the lawn-care equipment store hosted its first Municipality Days, inviting dozens of communities from the Mahoning Valley to the store to see what Do-Cut has to offer. And next year, the store will celebrate its 70th anniversary.

“How many stores here can say that?” asks the third-generation storeowner with a smile.

Do-Cut, 3375 Youngstown Road SE, sits on the edge of the county’s primary business center, Miller notes, but the store still does well, thanks in part to its marketing strategies and efforts such as remodeling its store over the summer. And so far, it’s working and new customers are coming in.

“What I’m seeing is that millennials are gravitating to downtowns and small towns. I hope that can be an uptick for us,” she says. “That demographic, I hope, wants to shop small. They will be a force in retail.”

While stores such as Do-Cut – along with some retail spaces nearby that had been empty for some time – are seeing a resurgence, the farther from the mall you drive along Route 422 in both directions, the less impact you see.

“This used to be The Strip. It’s where people came to shop. They shopped here. They dined here. They worked here,” says Patty Abbey, the third-generation owner of Warren Baking Co., 2216 Youngstown Road SE. “Business isn’t what it was.”

What could help, she says, are developments on the northern side of the mall rather than south along 422 or on the out parcels of the complex.

“If the people who bring business to the area worked toward bringing it this way instead of moving into Niles, everyone in Warren would benefit from it,” she says.

Further up the road from Warren Baking, as Route 422 turns to run east-west along the southern border of the downtown of the county seat, Diane Sauer notes a stability around her Chevrolet dealership, 700 Niles Road SE. In the 12 years since relocating from East Market Street, there’s been little change in the businesses around her, except the addition of a Dollar General store a few years ago.

“Clearly, Warren has gone through its share of challenges in the past 10 years, with the downsizing of Delphi and the loss of places like RG Steel,” Sauer says. “It’s not what it used to be, for sure, but we’re doing well.”

And for Warren, Route 422 remains a major asset, she notes, serving as one of the three main entrances to the city, along with Market Street and Elm Road, although 422 could be seen as the most important among them.

“It’s the way in from the biggest retail center in this area, which is critical,” she says. “It brings people here. It’s key.”

Pictured: Sheila Arp and Iwona Kulacz see steady business at Half Way Restaurant in Southington. 

Pictured, bottom: Tom Morgan and Lisa Miller at Do-Cut in Warren see a resurgence of business nearby.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.