Commentary: Dear Mr. Bellman

By Edward P. Noga

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Look below and you’ll see a photo of a note written by a very young man whose sister was in dance competitions recently at Powers Auditorium in downtown Youngstown.

Notice that it is written on a portion of a business-size envelope. The doorman at the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Youngstown was approached by this young man’s mom who asked Dave (the Bellman) if there was a place downtown where she might buy a national-chain gift card since they were from out of town and her son wanted to acknowledge Dave’s courtesy and position at the main entrance of the hotel.

Dave responded that, unfortunately, there was no gift shop in the hotel or another downtown business that might provide what she was looking for. With youthful energy, creativity and adaptability, young Cooper made do with a portion of an envelope. Somehow, the finished product makes you glad that he couldn’t find a gift card and thank-you note. Young Cooper’s heart and soul are on that envelope.

A young boy named Cooper who visited Youngstown shows his appreciation for a local man’s kindness.

There is no doubt that many out-of-towners do not know of the tremendous history of the former Stambaugh Building that houses the hotel. They stare upwards as they approach the doors and don’t know that the building is part of the rich and prosperous steel industry that once dominated our valley. They don’t know that originally the building was eight stories and housed a department store and the home offices of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. (which brought my family and thousands of others to Ohio at the turn of the 20th century). They don’t know that in 1912, plans were announced to add four more stories, which were completed in 1914. Young Cooper knew none of this as his jaw dropped while he looked upward and then was greeted by the “Bellman” the day he and his family arrived.

The “Bellman” he referred to is actually the hotel doorman. Dave has been opening the door for visitors and guests for almost a year now.

And who is this “Bellman” who opened the door for Cooper, his family and so many others who enter this grand building, restored and repurposed for thousands of visitors?

Dave is a Youngstowner who pursued a degree at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and applied his degree by finding several jobs at advertising firms here, in Columbus and, for many years, in New York City. He loved the work. But as marketing firms grew and became more competitive and global, he admitted to himself, and subsequently to his boss in New York City, that his work seemed to push him farther away from the clients.

As he sat in the CEO’s office, he said that he missed shaking hands with and seeing the smiles of the people he was working for. That particular company had 5,000 employees. As his personal drive was pushing him into a new direction, he found that his sister was considering moving back to northeastern Ohio and taking up residence in the family homestead, which she and her brother maintained after their parents’ deaths.

The move back to Youngstown included a job search using various well-known technology tools that advertise jobs. Then one day the DoubleTree job opened. At the interview, he shared his journey, especially the part about shaking the hands and seeing the smiles of the people he took care of. Young Cooper’s thank-you note and so many more similar interactions are now part of Dave’s daily routine.

Recently, a young woman from the Carolinas did an extended stay at the hotel. She was commissioned to work on a family ancestry tree and was doing interviews throughout the Midwest for a family book. The geographical midpoint for her interview sites happened to be northeastern Ohio. The DoubleTree became her place of respite and work as she researched the family history that took her back to the 1600s.

This chance encounter coincided with Dave’s hobby of pursuing his own family’s ancestry and religious roots. Over the years, his knowledge of genealogy has sometimes become an avenue for helping individuals and groups to look back into their family origins. Actually, his expertise has become more than just a hobby; he had occasionally been hired to do this kind of research. Opening the door and welcoming people has led Dave to all these conversations and experiences.

Dave has learned that being a doorman demands being intuitive as well as acting as a quasi-concierge. He has opened the door for many of the professional acts that perform locally at places like Covelli Centre and Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre. He has opened the door to myriad folks who are doing business with or coming into town for sports competitions at Youngstown State University. There are entrepreneurs from businesses that are expanding locally, the newcomers and others who come to town and get their first “welcome” from Dave. Then there are the folks and youngsters like Cooper who are just amazed at the grandeur of the building before the door gets opened.

One of the benefits of Dave’s job is just seeing the faces and expressions of those for whom he opens the door. For whatever reason, including Cooper being the sibling of someone in a dance competition, the door gets opened dozens and dozens of times a day for those coming and going. The visitors leave part of their story with us, and Dave leaves part of our community’s hospitality with them.

Thank you, Mr. Bellman!