Commentary: A Tale of Three Cities

By Stacia Erdos Littleton 
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Despite growing up on the outskirts of Mahoning County, my daughter has never been afraid to drive to downtown Youngstown (except perhaps in a snowstorm or raging downpour).

Having spent nearly every day after school studying ballet at Ballet Western Reserve, she looked forward to making the trip downtown herself when she received her driver’s license at age 16.

While some of her classmates questioned why she would drive to Youngstown for dance, I would venture to say most of her close Ballet Western Reserve friends, whether from Canfield, Boardman, Austintown or Poland, looked at BWR as the cultural epicenter of the Mahoning Valley, right across from the DeYor Performing Arts Center, not far from The Butler, with BWR’s studio windows opening onto Front Street.

It was kind of cool for them to hop in the car and drive for a coffee at Pressed, or a salad at V2, between rehearsals and performances.


My daughter (now in her 20s) lives in Cincinnati and is enjoying big-city life. Her apartment window overlooks the Ohio River and the stunningly lit Cincinnati-Covington Bridge that connects Ohio and Kentucky. The doors to her building open onto the pedestrian-only East Freedom Way that runs between the Reds’ Great American Ballpark and the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium.

On weekends and game days she steps out the front door into a carnival-like atmosphere. The street comes to life with Cincinnati fans filling the restaurants and bars as live music wafts in and out of the open-air patios.

Over Labor Day weekend, my husband and I (and our dog) stayed at the AC Banks hotel next to her apartment. We enjoyed dinner at a restaurant on the river, visited more than one brewpub, and on our final night, spent an evening at a roof top bar with fireworks exploding above the ballpark. It was a fantastic weekend.


Two weeks ago, my daughter and I finally made it to Pittsburgh for the Harry Styles concert that had been postponed because of the pandemic. I had bought her tickets for her birthday TWO YEARS ago. We stayed at a hotel within walking distance to PPG Paints Arena and to a slew of restaurants and outside venues on Penn Avenue. The concert was tremendous. (I mean, it was Harry!)

The next day we had an amazing lobster quesadilla at Roland’s Seafood Grill in the Strip District. While there, our discussion turned to the holidays. She was eager to come home and hang out with her friends in downtown Youngstown. Where should she go?


I took the opportunity to tell her about my recent “3-P” weekend, as I called it. On Saturday, I had met a good friend at Prima Cucina for drinks and the most amazing appetizers. 
(I’ll digress to a quick restaurant review now.) Prima’s crispy artichokes are out of this world. From there, we walked two blocks to see “The Color Purple” at the DeYor Performing Arts Center.

The talent on stage that night was spectacular. We could have been at the Benedum in Pittsburgh or Playhouse Square in Cleveland seeing a national touring company. And the packed crowd shared in the excitement of seeing such remarkable talent.

The evening ended with a walk back to the car and a glimpse of the lights on Phelps Street casting a glow on late night patrons and the pink lights on the Market Street Bridge – signaling what was to come the next morning.

By 8 a.m. I was heading back to Youngstown for the Panerathon. The event raises money for the Joanie Abdu Breast Care Center. This year, while attendance remained down because of the pandemic and the weather, the uplifting spirit of community was back and just as fervent as ever. It had been a perfect Prima, “Purple” and Panerathon weekend.  


My daughter was set on a night downtown with friends but concerned about finding an Uber for the late ride home. “Why don’t you guys get a hotel room at the DoubleTree?” I suggested. And with that, the reservations were made and brunch at the Bistro was added to the itinerary.

My daughter may be living in a bigger city now but she truly appreciates and revels in seeing the continuing revitalization going on downtown when she comes home – a new restaurant, concert venue, pedestrian walkway, maybe next time a new brewery.

At a recent Regional Chamber luncheon, Judge Theresa Dellick urged getting rid of Youngstown’s “Rust Belt” identity and replacing it for good with “The Voltage Valley.”

Young people don’t even know the term “Rust Belt,” she remarked. At the same event, the Youngstown police chief expressed concern that the city continues to be perceived as being a dangerous place when crime actually has gone down over the last 20 years.

From my experience, young people who’ve left the Valley, temporarily or not, have learned that crime is present in every city. Youngstown is no different.

I’ve also come to realize labels aren’t important to 20-somethings – in fact they’re rejected. To them, it’s neither the Rust Belt nor the Voltage Valley.

Youngstown is an eclectic collection of old familiar places and an exciting new landscape that will continue to bring them back and, thankfully, welcome them home.