Our Towns

New Vitality Renews Downtown Sharon

SHARON, Pa. — Jason Camerlengo stands in the foyer of his brewpub that, after two arduous years, is finally open downtown. As he looks around, shifting his gaze between the packed bar and families eating in booths across from it, he sighs and smiles.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I’m excited,” says Camerlengo, brewer and co-owner of Brewtus Brewing Co., 23 Chestnut Ave. “It’s been a long road getting here, but seeing everyone turn out today is making it come to life.”

Within an hour of opening July 1 to the public for the first time, there’s a constant flow of people entering and leaving. Some stay and have a drink, others grab a quick lunch and a few just stop in to inspect the changes Camerlengo and the other Brewtus co-owners – his fiancée, Shelby Dukes, and John and Patty LaRocca – have made to the building.

“This community has told us for two years that they’re excited for us to open. Seeing them in here is what makes this real,” Camerlengo says. “This community is willing to do anything and everything to help newcomers be successful.”

Downtown Sharon has enjoyed a revival over the last decade. Lining State Street – the city’s main drag – and its offshoots are niche stores, small restaurants and artisan shops, something that convinced Camerlengo and his co-owners to take the plunge.

As you stand in the middle of downtown, at the intersection of State and Chestnut streets, you can see a kitchen supply store, a cake shop, a theater, a couple of small cafes, a store that offers pottery classes and a cigar shop. And plenty of others.

“Any kind of niche business is good for the city. They bring in tax money and people working. Once everyone sees what’s been done, more people want to get involved,” says Rick Shaffer, an employee of The Penn Ohio Cigar Co., 91 E. State St. “If someone drives in for those stores from Cleveland or Pittsburgh, they aren’t here for just one store. They also stop at other stores, restaurants, theaters and other places. It helps everything.”

Many owners of businesses, both old and new, point to the addition of new events as the kick-starter for the revitalization. Chief among them is WaterFire, a “multi-sensory performance event” where braziers are lit on the Shenango River. Similar events are also hosted in Columbus, Kansas City and Rome.

“The events like WaterFire have really shown people how nice Sharon can be,” says Gold Mind Jewelers owner Mark Multari.

Multari has had his store in the downtown 25 years, starting the business just before the heavy industry in the region began retrenching. Over the years, he says, he’s seen the ups and downs. But right now, he continues, the business climate is as good as it’s been in a long time.

“There’s a lot more foot traffic with all the new stores that have opened up recently. It’s nice to see people on the streets all the time,” he says. “The parking lots are full, which brings up another problem, but one that’s good to have.”

But even before those events became commonplace – WaterFire was celebrated Saturday and will be held again Aug. 22 and Sept. 26 – there were those who still invested in downtown Sharon. Marcia Moyer, owner and operator of Tickled Reflexology, and her family spent 18 months renovating her building. Now, she operates her salon in the back and rents out the front half to startup stores.

“It was vacant for 11 years before we bought it,” he begins. “There was extensive water damage. The plumbing was poorly done. The paint was falling off the walls. We were in here before WaterFire came along and things really took off. And things have gotten so much better.”

The best thing about downtown now, Moyer says without hesitation, is the people.

“I am totally surrounded by positive people, which is the great thing about Sharon. All of the merchants are happy to be here,” she says.

Camerlengo echoes the sentiment. While the Brewtus team was renovating its building, he says, area businesses donated their time and advice to get work done, whether it was installing the brewing tanks or cleaning up the space.

“The business community has been absolutely phenomenal,” he declares. “We really couldn’t have asked for a better response.”

The city has played a major role in changing the culture of downtown Sharon, the business owners say. Streetlights have been updated, making the area feel more welcoming and secure. Landscaping was performed to improve the visual appeal. And signs were installed to make the downtown easier to navigate for visitors.

“They aren’t trying control every little thing that happens. They’re happy to keep people willing to make improvements and investments,” says Mike Lisac, owner of Warehouse Sales, 200 W. Silver St., and Lisac Properties, of the city government.

Lisac began working at Warehouse Sales after he graduated from high school in 1989. In 2000, he bought the business. Seven years later he began Lisac properties and started renovating downtown buildings. The biggest difference he sees is the attitude of the people downtown.

“When I first came down here, all anyone talked about was what was wrong with Sharon,” he says. “Now, most of the conversations are, ‘Have you seen this? Heard about this? Have you been to this great place?’ It’s comforting to hear so much positivity about the town.”

Donnie McDonald, owner of Donnie’s Barbershop and one of Lisac’s tenants, opened his shop in 2008 and has watched downtown slowly morph, even seeing the addition of a couple other barbershops and salons.

“The biggest change is the movement of the city,” McDonald says. “People are down here walking around. They’re happy to be here and it creates a great atmosphere.”

When everything is considered, from the well-attended events such as WaterFire to the niche shops and from the city’s help to the change in mindset of people in downtown, it makes for a business district that’s achieved one of its highest points since the mid-1970s.

“Downtown Sharon is the place to be,” Brewtus’ Camerlengo proclaims. “You can come to this city and get something you can’t find anywhere else. There are so many shops here that are truly unique and interesting with so many great people in them.”

Pictured: Brewtus Brewing Co. is the newest addition to downtown Sharon. Co-owners John LaRocca, Shelby Dukes and Jason Camerlengo opened the brew pub July 1 after two years of work and help from the city and area busineses.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.