Our Towns

Remembering the Man Who Built Boardman

BOARDMAN, Ohio – They were kids watching their father create a suburban retail district on farmland.

As they grew up, so did Boardman Township, and they saw their father’s company, the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., became a giant in the shopping mall industry.

“I think he put Boardman on the map,” says Denise DeBartolo York.

“He had the greatest foresight and mind of anyone I’ve ever met,” says Edward Debartolo Jr.

Their father, Edward J. DeBartolo Sr., is memorialized in a bronze statute inside the Southern Park Mall his company built, on the nameplate of the company offices it occupied at 7620 Market St., and in the memories of those who witnessed U.S. Route 224 and Market Street become Mahoning County’s retail center.

Twenty-one years after his death, the recollections of his children illustrate how Boardman looked when Edward J. DeBartolo went to work.

“I can remember my mother talking about the first time he drove her to the site of the Boardman Plaza, when it was all a wooded area,” Denise begins.

‘I was expecting cowboys and Indians to come out of the woods!’ she told me. I’ll never forget her saying that.”

“When the Boardman Plaza opened [in 1951], it was anchored by Gray Drug Store and Ambriola’s,” Eddie remembers. “We had Lustig’s Shoes and Western Auto. I remember going into W.T. Grants with my mother. It was a place where you could have lunch, sit at the soda fountain and eat hotdogs.”

Today the Boardman Plaza encompasses 622,000 square feet of commercial space along Boardman-Canfield Road.

Long gone are the retail names that Eddie remembers and many more such as Fazio’s, Stambaugh-Thompson and Hill’s Department Store, where Denise remembers snacking on popcorn.

“One of my fondest memories of the Boardman Plaza, and it’s been reincarnated, is Butter Maid Bakery,” she says. “It’s now back in the Boardman Plaza and its sales are better than ever.”

Butter Maid Bakery, founded in 1955 by the Naumoff family, was a favorite stop for Denise and Eddie when their mother, Marie, took them to the plaza.

“All these come back to mind once you start talking about this,” Eddie says.

“When my father started out in business with my grandfather in the 1930s,” he relates, “they started building roads, then apartments on the South Side by the old Newport Theatre. Then he built a small shopping center at 2626 Market St. [in Youngstown’s Uptown district]. From there, because we lived on Danbury Drive [in the Newport neighborhood], his vision took him out to the suburbs.”

“This was the area where he wanted to spend his life,” Denise says. “We moved into our house on Southwoods Drive in 1960 and the office building down the street was built in 1959. … He made Boardman a modern, vibrant community with nice restaurants and good shopping. He wanted to give it attributes so people didn’t have to travel. It was still a small community and had a small-community feel, but he wanted to keep up with the times.”

The Southern Park Mall, which opened in 1970, “was his greatest vision,” Eddie continues. “He wanted to do something in his hometown that he was doing elsewhere in the country. Boardman meant so much to him. It was our home — he built our house up the street from his office.”

During summers when they were in college, DeBartolo’s son and daughter worked at the family business, and when they graduated, took full-time positions with their father’s company.

“I think the greatest thing he taught me was ‘Always work a little bit harder than you play and you’ll be a success.’ Just give it your all and you’ll go as far as you can,” Eddie says.

Adds Denise, “The thing that sticks in my mind when we’ve been though some interesting, difficult situations is how he would always tell me, “No matter how tough things get, hold your head up high, stay focused and carry on.”

Pictured: Denise DeBartolo York, Edward DeBartolo Jr. and their father, Edward J. DeBartolo Sr., in 1992.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.