WRTA Gives Small Businesses a Lift

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A person who prays doesn’t always see that prayer answered in the manner intended – or at all. But don’t try to make that case to Darla Cecil.

Cecil, who owns Sugarpan Bakery in Campbell, said she had been praying for the opportunity to get more exposure for her business “in this whole weird COVID world that we live in now.”

On April 28, during the kickoff of the Western Reserve Transit Authority’s “Give Local Small Business a Lift!” campaign, Cecil took home a $3,000 award in television advertising from WKBN-TV 27. Sugarpan Bakery is one of 12 small businesses that will be recognized by WRTA over the next three months.

Along with Sugarpan, the campaign will promote:

• Cornersburg Italian Specialties, Youngstown

• Peaberry’s Café, Boardman

• One Step Forward, Boardman

• The Youngstown Flea, Youngstown

• Next Level Fitness Academy, Austintown

• Sarah’s Ceramics, Austintown

• Send It Packin’, Austintown

• Fancey Boutique, Boardman

• The TakeOut, Youngstown

• Laugh and Learn Academy LLC, Youngstown

• Culture House Coffee Co., Youngstown

“This campaign is going to be perfect for getting exposure and getting into the faces of more people to be less obscure and to let people know we’re there,” Cecil said. 

WRTA kicked off the campaign during a media event at Concept Studio in downtown Youngstown. It’s co-sponsored by The Business Journal, WKBN-TV 27 and On-Demand Occupational Medicine.

The campaign is designed to promote local businesses, which need help as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, and tie that into the transit service as a means to connect to them, said Dean Harris, WRTA executive director.

Statistics show that there are 32.5 million small businesses in the United States that account for more than 99% of the nation’s businesses, he said.

“It is the local impact your small business has that helps stimulate the local economy. When you’re successful, the whole Valley is successful,” Harris said.  

Criteria for being considered for the campaign included a location along or near a WRTA route. About 85 nominations were received, Harris said.

Through July 31, the selected businesses will be featured on signs on WRTA buses and its digital sign above Federal Station downtown, as well as on the WRTA website and in its social media.

The businesses also will be featured in ads in The Business Journal and on the newspaper’s website, BusinessJournalDaily.com.

In its first edition in 1984, The Business Journal spotlighted WRTA as its first Success Story feature, Andrea Wood, president and publisher, said.

“Today we celebrate WRTA in The Business Journal because it brings people to your businesses, as well as workers to your businesses,” Wood said. There is a “transportation challenge to the economy in the inner city” and WRTA is important for addressing it, she added.

WKBN donated the $3,000 television ad campaign, which initially was awarded to Youngstown Flea when that company’s name was drawn at random. Flea owner Derrick McDowell asked if he could pass along the ad package to another business, and was invited to draw another company name. He drew Sugarpan Bakery.

McDowell, who said the community has rallied around his business since he started it, saw winning the ad package as a chance to “allow someone else to have that opportunity.”

“Because the Youngstown Flea has been very well supported by this community doesn’t mean we have everything that we need. But the community of shoppers and supporters has really propped us up,” he said. “I know that there are others out there who need this opportunity as well.”

Cecil called McDowell’s decision “an absolutely incredible gesture.”

Owners of the other businesses on hand also expressed their appreciation for the campaign.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the community,” said Tracy Schott, owner of Send It Packin’, a printing and shipping company. “I go up and down Mahoning Avenue now and I see the empty storefronts that I used to go to.”

Peaberry’s Café owner Chris Pendleton said he is looking forward to the additional exposure the campaign will provide. Among the main challenges his business now faces is inflation.

“Things are doubling and tripling in price for us,” and the restaurant is trying not to pass those costs along to customers, he said.

The WRTA campaign also is serving as a “morale boost” within Peaberry’s, Pendleton said.

He learned about it from an employee who regularly uses the bus service.

“Everybody in the shop is rallying around her and chanting her as a hero for getting us involved in this,” Pendleton said.

Pictured: Twelve businesses were selected by WRTA for recognition. Front row from left: Katie Salupo, Cornersburg Italian Specialties; Darla Cecil, Sugarpan Bakery; Tracy Schott, Send It Packin’; Terri Entzi, Next Level Fitness Academy; Sarah Fenton, Sarah’s Ceramics Studio; Chris Pendleton, Peaberry’s Cafe; Brooke Williams, Laugh & Learn Academy. Back row: Shalayah Sanders, One Step Forward; Kisha Holloway, Fancey Boutique; Antonio Owens, The Take Out; Derrick McDowell, The Youngstown Flea. Next to McDowell are Dave Coy, WKBN TV 27, Judy Rodriquez and Dean Harris, WRTA.