Our Towns

Struthers Business Districts Show Signs of Renewal

STRUTHERS, Ohio It isn’t difficult for Mayor Terry Stocker to picture the Struthers of days gone by. He’s lived in the city most of his life and followed his father’s footsteps into local government, first spending 18 years on City Council then 10 more as mayor.

The common thread throughout those positions is a pride in the city and a push to recapture what made Struthers the place Stocker loved growing up. He starts with downtown.

“We got our shoes there. We got our hair cut there. We used to eat our ice cream at Isaly’s Dairy. We had a movie theater,” he says. “We lost a lot of that as the businesses left. But we’re still blessed to have a lot of great spots to go out and dine in across the city.”

To help revitalize the central business district, Struthers has completed several projects under Stocker. Sidewalks were reinstalled and streetlamps upgraded. Castlo Community Improvement Corp. has upgraded the roadways in its industrial park where 80 are employed among 10 tenants, with more on the horizon. Throughout the city, roads are being repaved based on need, each road inspected and rated good, fair, poor or critical.

What can play a major role in attracting businesses, the mayor continues, is the low cost of property downtown and ample space available, although some buildings need to be renovated before a business could open in them.

“We have to find ways to improve the aesthetics. We have some vacant buildings,” Stocker says. “We need to move forward on that for economic development needs, either acquiring property through eminent domain or having the folks who own it bring it up to meet our building standards.”

That low cost is what attracted Daniel Mason to open his store, Reptile’s Video Game & Movie Den, in the downtown. He took over the storefront at 8 State St. in September and spent about three months renovating it before opening. “It was cheap and big and easy to handle for us,” he says. “There isn’t much of our own parking, but with three big lots around you, you don’t need much.”

The community has seemed to embrace the store and he hasn’t had any problems from customers, although some confusion has arisen from the name of his store. Many first-time customers, he says, thought the store sold reptiles.

“But it’s all been friendly,” he says with a laugh. “A lot of people have been coming by. We might consider the store next door and have the two spaces side-by-side. … It’s going to be leased out and we might grab it depending on how we do over here.”

While the downtown goes through stages of revival, other business districts are holding their own and growing.

Along state Route 170 – Youngstown-Poland Road – on the western edge of Struthers, Dunkin’ Donuts and Taco Bell recently completed total renovations, as did the Sami Quick Stop. The work by the two chains spurred a flurry of nearby work that included the addition of a PsyCare branch that focuses on drug rehabilitation.

“If you go up and down the 170 corridor, it’s one of our more promising areas in the city, where people are looking at starting businesses because of its location and the daily traffic count,” the mayor says.

That growth could ultimately prove beneficial to other small businesses along the corridor, which has Struthers on one side and the outer limits of Youngstown, Boardman and Poland on the other.

“It’ll increase traffic. In fact, we can already use a [traffic] light right here. We get a couple fender benders a year right here at this little intersection,” says Doug Smith, owner of The Drum Smith, 576 Youngstown-Poland Road.

The investment of big companies, those who can afford to expand their presence, is a good sign for the future of the strip, he adds. What’s helped his store is the very small number of music supply stores nearby and that none is dedicated to a single instrument.

“A lot of music stores, and especially independent specialty shops, have been dropping like flies. We’re one of the last men standing,” he says. “We do a fair amount of business on the internet and we embraced it when some stores didn’t. That’s primarily it and we have an emphasis, for local traffic, on advice.”

Another small-business district is along Fifth and Walton streets, a mix of both commercial and industrial companies, anchored by The Elmton restaurant and plazas around it. Having such a longstanding restaurant – it was founded in 1945 – with a reputation throughout the Mahoning Valley has benefited stores nearby, observes Gregg Wormley, owner of The PumpHouse, a home brewing supply store that shares a parking lot with the restaurant.

“It’s a busy little corner right here with The Elmton next door,” he says. “That keeps us going.”

Wormley bought the store in 1997 after moving back to his hometown from California. He picked up an interest in brewing beer in the ’80s and returning to Struthers coincided with the store going up for sale.

“It was just the right thing at the right time,” Wormley says, and now he sees Struthers making a comeback. “They’re starting to build and refurbish downtown. You always like to see local business come back around. And the ones who’ve been here forever are continuing to serve.”

With a long history of industry, Struthers hasn’t forgotten its past. Local businesses often pride themselves on the same blue-collar work ethic that millworkers exhibited at Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.’s Campbell Works. Although the company is long gone, its former site along the Mahoning River still plays a role in the success of Struthers.

One of Castlo’s biggest efforts is the remediation of the brownfields throughout the communities it serves – Campbell, Struthers and Lowellville along with Poland and Coitsville townships. In 2010, the corporation was awarded a $3.5 million Jobs Ready grant from the state to install roads, make rail line improvements and remediate the industrial site.

What’s next for the group, says board Chairman Randy Partika, is bringing in new businesses. Pilot Flying J and Industrial Piping Specialists moved in recently, with the truck stop company putting up a new structure. Aqua Ohio is also considering a new building, he adds.

“We’re going to get aggressive in recruiting for our open acreage,” Partika says. “We’ll get end-users to come in who are bringing jobs. We’ll use more advanced marketing and go national to attract out-of-town people.”

Chairing the Castlo board has also given Partika, Mahoning County’s bridge engineer, a front-row seat to see how Struthers is adjusting. He’s encouraged by efforts to improve infrastructure and that many local businesses have endured tough times without moving or closing up shop.

“A lot of the businesses are small shops, eight to 10 people. There’s local ownership and people who’ve been around for a lot of years and maybe haven’t felt the need to grow,” he says. “There are those who’ve settled here, have a good work ethic and are dedicated to Struthers.”

Looking into Struthers’ future, Mayor Stocker – also a member of Castlo board – allows that he won’t lead the city forever. What will ensure success is the effort of city leaders, whether mayors or councilmen.

“There will be some changes and I just hope that people who care get involved in the community,” he says. “It’s about leadership and pride and knowing what you got. … It’s a hard balancing act sometimes between elderly, kids, roads. But people will let you know what you need to do.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.