Our Towns

Liberty’s Diverse Business Community Shows Resilience

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Jack Kravitz, owner of one of the landmark establishments in Liberty Township, says the   community from time to time suffers from a crisis of perception.

First, there are those in Trumbull County who dismiss Liberty as an extension of the North Side of Youngstown and perceive it as a de facto part of the city, Kravitz observes.

On the other hand, he says some in Youngstown are quick to point to the political boundary that separates the city from the township, affirming its status in Trumbull County.

“People in Trumbull County sometimes don’t acknowledge us as part of Trumbull County – they think we’re in Youngstown,” Kravitz says as he sits at a table in his family’s longtime business, Kravitz Delicatessen, 3135 Belmont Ave. “Youngstown, on the other hand, considers us Trumbull County.”

What the township needs, Kravitz says, is a coordinated effort among business owners and residents to promote and highlight the opportunities within the township. “We need to let the rest of the communities in the Mahoning Valley know what’s going on in Liberty,” he says.

What sets Belmont Avenue apart from other commercial districts is the number of diverse businesses within a confined stretch of just a few miles, Kravitz observes.

“We have a mix of businesses that no one else really has,” he says. “We have a Jewish deli, one of the best Chinese restaurants in town, a seafood restaurant and two great Italian places – Jimmy’s and Station Square.”

Such diversity is exemplified by work underway next to Kravitz’ in the plaza where contractors are busy converting the interior of a vacant storefront into a new bakery and restaurant that specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine.

Kravitz Delicatessen, founded in 1939 in Youngstown by the owner’s mother, the late Rose Kravitz, has been a fixture since 1970 at the Colonial Plaza.

The establishment has evolved into a restaurant, bakery and today a successful catering business, Inspired Catering. And Kravitz uses its home base in Liberty to supply its two other restaurants – one at the Poland Library, the other at Fellows Riverside Gardens in Mill Creek Park in Youngstown.

“Liberty has maintained itself over the last several years,” Kravitz says. “Our business has been growing, retail-wise. It’s gone up a little bit, but the catering is going very well.”

Other business owners along Belmont Avenue say their locations are ideal for their operations. This is mostly because two major access points bracket this stretch of Belmont – the 711 interchange at the southern border with Youngstown and the Interstate 80 interchange three miles north.

“About 30,000 cars a day go by here,” says Sharon Blumental, owner of The Supply Room, 3221 Belmont Ave. “We have connections to two major expressways.”

Above: Holly McNees, Sharon Blumental and Sue Ruby operate The Supply Room.

The Supply Room stocks and sells a myriad of educational supplies for Mahoning Valley school systems, nursing homes, assisted living centers and just about any organization looking to decorate or host a promotional event.

What is important to understand about Liberty is that the community expresses a sense of dedication to local business, Blumental says. “We rely on retail traffic, outreach to local schools, nursing homes and assisted living campuses,” she says.

“We’ve been a part of Liberty now for 34 years,” she continues.” It’s a safe location, and the support services are outstanding.”

The attraction to Liberty Township was enough to convince developer Ronald Anderson, president of Universal Development Inc., to purchase the former Metroplex hotel building and 11 acres where it sits and bring that complex back to productive use.

Phase I was completed last year with the opening of the Metroplex Expo and Banquet Center, says event manager Briana Simone. The second phase consists of converting the hotel’s former guest rooms into four floors of storage units, she says.

“The banquet and expo business has been open for a year, and we’ve held quite a few events,” Simone says. Weddings, she notes, make up about 75% of the bookings. “We’ve hosted trade shows, graduation parties, the home and garden show and sportsmen shows.”

It’s a far cry from the state of affairs when Anderson first bought the building, Simone recalls. “When we moved in, the roof was leaking. The plumbing had burst. Half of the toilets didn’t work. And there were holes in the drywall.”

The Metroplex opened in 1987 under the Holiday Inn flag and soon became a popular venue for conventions, weddings – even concerts. The venue shut its doors in 2014 after several years of decline and several small fires.

Anderson acquired the building and land for $850,000 in March 2015.

Today, the building boasts several large rooms – The Stardust Ballroom is the largest and can seat 1,000 people, but could be modified into a Grand Ballroom to accommodate even more guests. A smaller venue, the Liberty Room, seats about 250 people, while a lounge can seat roughly 150 and is especially fitting for company gatherings.

“We also have a fully functioning prep kitchen,” Simone says, noting that any party that books the Metroplex can select the caterer of its choice.

“The banquet side of the business is really booming,” she says. “October and November are my busiest months.”

Above: Briana Simone prepares for a weekend wedding at the Metroplex Expo Center.

The more events booked at the Metroplex, Simone says, the more business along the Belmont Avenue corridor stands to grow.

The Metroplex’s self-storage division, under construction, is segregated from the banquet side, Simone says. Universal Development has thus far finished a portion of the first floor and expects to finish this phase by December.

Work on the upper three floors is set to start once the first units are operational.

In all, the Metroplex plans to feature 450 storage units of varying sizes.

If anything, Liberty has proven resilient in the face of the declining population and lack of job opportunities that affect all of the Mahoning Valley, longtime business owners agree.

“I think we’re the oldest business in Liberty Township, and there’s a chance that we’re the oldest ice cream shop in Ohio,” asserts David Pitoscia, owner of Webb’s Ice Cream on Churchill Road. The parlor, established in 1941, moved near the intersection of Churchill Road and Logan Way in 1951.

“I’d say business is starting to come back,” he relates. “This is a pretty busy intersection.”

The local ice cream industry is more competitive than ever, even in this neck of the township. Handel’s, Dairy Queen and Katie’s Korners have locations near Webb’s, and Pitoscia says he’s trying to boost his customer base as he closes for winter.

Above: David Pitoscia says Webb’s Original Homemade Ice Cream is among the oldest in Liberty.

“I purchased the business nine years ago,” he says. “We have about 50 recipes now. We’ve done some remodeling.”

Other longstanding businesses have adapted to the changed local economy, finding success by tapping into in-demand markets.

“This company was established as Allen’s Drugtown in the early 1950s by Allen Goldstone,” says Richard Marlin, director of the pharmacy that today is Allen’s PharmaServ on Gypsy Lane, just across the border from Youngstown into Liberty Township. “We became a local chain of retail pharmacies with eight or nine stores.”

By the 1990s, big drug discount retailers were moving in and making it tougher for locally owned retailers to compete. In 1998, Goldstone sold the retail pharmacy business to Rite-Aid, but kept intact a division he was certain would grow.

“We kept the long-term care division,” Marlin says. Today, Allen’s supplies pharmaceuticals exclusively to skilled nursing centers, assisted living facilities, Hospice of the Valley and other institutional customers, especially in the mental health community.

“We no longer compete with retail chains,” he says.

When the division started in 1998, there were just six employees, Marlin notes. “We’re up to 21 now – including seven pharmacists and 12 pharmaceutical technicians.”

Since then, the business has experienced substantial growth, adds its president, Alan Mirkin.

The company supplies not only pharmaceuticals to commercial clients, it helps families deal with care and insurance questions as well. And, Mirkin notes, there is increasingly more need in the mental health industry.

“The Mahoning Valley has an aging population, so there’s great demand for what we do,” Mirkin says. “We saw a market here that is unique and growing.”

Pictured at top: Jack Kravitz says there is a diversity of ethnic establishments in Liberty Township.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.