CityScape, DYP Work to Grow Downtown Business

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Business in December at Bella Amica Casual Boutique was better than expected, owner Erin Lonsway says. 

Business has been steady since Lonsway, a former flight attendant for Delta, opened the women’s apparel and accessories shop just a year earlier, but the store had “an amazing December.” She attributes the strong activity in part to efforts to bring people downtown, such as the Dec. 3 holiday tree lighting and the Flea on Phelps night market.

“I knew we were going to be busy but it was crazy,” she says. “I just never expected it to be like that.” 

Staging events to attract new audiences to downtown Youngstown, providing incentives to patronize its establishments and just getting the different businesses to communicate with one another are among the vehicles that Youngstown CityScape and Downtown Youngstown Partnership, a CityScape program, use to promote downtown commerce. 

Erin Lonsway, Bella Amica Casual Boutique.

“The work that we’ve done for 25 years is to get to a point where we have the businesses, and now we have to figure out ways to promote one another,” Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape, says.  

In late 2021, CityScape began selling its 2021-2022 downtown discount cards, which provide cardholders deals at a number of venues in downtown Youngstown. This time, CityScape is partnering with students in Youngstown State University’s nonprofit leadership program who are selling the cards in return for a portion of those sales.

“It’s to drive business to places. It’s also sort of free advertising for our businesses,” Letson says. A cardholder who regularly patronizes a particular downtown restaurant regularly might see other dining options on the card as well as the discounts offered for downtown attractions and “make an evening of it or a day of it,” she says. 

So far, a couple hundred cards have been sold, Letson estimates. Shipping issues prevented the cards from arriving before the holidays, costing those seasonal sales. “We’re selling a handful every day,” she says. 

The Flea on Phelps, which CityScape and DYP staged in partnership with Youngstown Flea founder Derrick McDowell, and light-up night “exceeded expectations,” says Adam Lee, CityScape program director and DYP co-organizer.

“It did create just a buzz and excitement, where people wanted to come down again,” says Ellie Platt, Platt Insurance owner and DYP co-organizer. “They may have come for the Flea but never had really experienced some of the downtown restaurants at night.” 

Bella Amica had customers who returned in the weeks that followed who said they didn’t have the chance to stop in that night or saw the shop was busy and chose to come back another time. “That really helped kick off the month,” Lonsway says.  

“We’ve had some great feedback from downtown businesses, not just that night. Certainly there were tons of people. That drove a lot of activity,” Platt says. 

“It set the stage for a conversation about different opportunities,” Lee says. “We really have a lot of great opportunity to make some cool stuff happen down there.”

Following the Flea on Phelps’ success, DYP is looking at ways to capitalize on the response with other seasonal events, such as an Oktoberfest or an event tied to Independence Day, or a regular farmer’s market, Platt says.

DYP, which invites downtown stakeholders to meetings quarterly, also plays a role in promoting downtown business. Ways for businesses to promote one another could include specialty menus or beverages, or an event where visitors can collect different chocolates from downtown venues to encourage traffic. 

“It’s for this group to identify the kinds of things they want to do,” Letson says. 

Pictured at top: The Flea on Phelps night market from this past holiday season.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.