Determination is Lisa Robinson’s Show Stopper

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It has been struggle after struggle for Lisa Robinson as she fought to get her business off the ground.

First, there were her own medical battles against asthma and thyroid problems that left her gasping for breath on the floor of her apartment with no one near to help – the closest she came to death. She’s also caretaker for her brother in the midst of his own health problems.

Then, there was the incarceration of two of her sons, one for life, the other serving a five-year sentence. Before that, two of her husbands were killed and she divorced the third several years ago, which took a toll on her and her youngest son who graduated from high school last year.

She sold her house to have the money to cover the costs of renovating a building to house her business, , moving in with her daughter seven months. Robinson worked other jobs, too,.

All of this as she put almost every dollar she earned from landscaping into renovating the former Burkland Flowers building, almost $60,000, over 18 months as part of an agreement with the county land bank. On March 17, she says, it all became worth it as the Youngstown Board of Control sold her the building for $1.

“I was excited. I screamed, jumped up and down, hugged my son,” she says. “It was hard, hard work but I did it. I did it when many people doubted me.”

Through it all, Robinson has always stuck to her mantra: A winner is a fighter.

“That’s what I had to be. I had two husbands killed and was basically a single mom even when I was married. I was the man and woman of the house,” she says. “But a winner is a fighter. Dreams come true.”

Robinson, second oldest of eight children, took to gardening at a young age, tending to her grandmother and mother’s flowerbeds and, at one point, painting her front porch because she felt it needed a new look.

That work then moved onto her own home and, in turn, became landscaping for neighbors to make some extra money. That extra money eventually flowed into the business she’s been running the past year and a half: Show Stopper Landscaping.

“It’s something I always liked to do,” she says. “My mom tried to sway me to go to college but I was never a college person. It shows that you may not be book-wise but still be smart in other areas and succeed.”

When she first moved into her building, 3514 Market St., the structure was ready to be torn down. The roof had caved in and water leaked in after a decade of disuse. Raccoons lived in crawlspaces. The lot was covered with debris where it wasn’t overgrown saplings and grass. One of Robinson’s first objectives was to convert the small second floor of the store to an apartment so she could move out of her daughter’s home.

It seemed, as Robinson and others who know her put it, “a lost cause.”

“When she got her building, it was ramshackle and I told myself I couldn’t live in there. I couldn’t have done what she did,” says Michele Callier, owner of Klip n Klippers salon on Hillman Street and one of Show Stopper’s newest clients. “To see her finally get a building and transition into a business, I think she did a good job.”

The most visible of Robinson’s work is along Market Street between Midlothian Boulevard and Laclede Avenue. She’s done landscaping at Sami Quick Stop, the Shell and Best Way service stations and Southside Mart, taking flowers, trees and cedar mulch to an area otherwise dominated by grey parking lots and buildings in various hues of brown.

Moe Ahmed, owner of Sami Quick Stop at the corner of Market and Midlothian, was Show Stopper’s first commercial client in the area. He’s watched her work through renovations and improve the appearance of the thoroughfare.

“She does work from her heart. She’s a good human being and makes sure everything she does comes from her heart,” he says. “The South Side was suburban at one time and from what I’ve seen of her work, she can help bring that. After she did that, everyone wanted her to do their store exactly like she did ours.”

Combined with the 30 yards she improved last year for homeowners, Robinson is making her mark on the South Side of Youngstown.

“She’s made Market Street and that area 100% better,” says Rocky Warren, a Show Stopper customer in Campbell and one of the students at the school where Robinson was a long-time teacher’s aide. “When you ride around here, everything looks abandoned. You want that area to be bright and the work Lisa’s doing is just that.”

What first attracted Warren to Robinson’s work is its flair. Driving by her store on Market Street, passers-by can see spiral pine trees, immaculate lawn decorations employing mulch and birdbaths that match pictures of previous projects she keeps on her desk. It’s a distinctive style that people are starting to recognize, Warren says.

“She’s different compared to other landscapers,” he says. “If you’re right down the block and have seen the work she does, you’ll be able to spot it. She has a different touch from anyone else.”

Warren’s lawn is among those on Robinson’s schedule this year. Last year, Show Stopper did work on 30 lawns in Youngstown and its suburbs. After the storefront officially opens June 11, she expects to double last year’s figure.

While she doesn’t have any formal, full-time employees, Robinson keeps a Rolodex in her mind of those she can call for help, paying them a portion of the income from the job. It’s a mix of teenagers and older adults, she says, noting that she pays special attention to the younger workers.

Rather than spending time unsupervised or getting into trouble, working for Show Stopper gives them a chance to earn spending money without turning to illegal activities that Robinson worked to avoid.

“Kids do that because they have nowhere else to turn, Robinson explains. “They don’t have any meaning to them so they sell drugs. I’ve seen that kids can change.

Robinson continues: “I have to teach them to do things by hand. Some people laugh because I don’t have the equipment, but I teach the kids the hard way to do things so that when we can do it easily, it’s a breeze.”

In the 18 months since she began leasing her building from the city, Robinson has had her share of skeptics and naysayers. Many, she says, advised her to open her store in Boardman or move out of the city altogether after her sons were convicted. Some told her she worked too hard given her health problems.

“People said I’d kill myself doing this,” Robinson says, “and I told them that at least I’d die happy.”

Work remains to be done on the former Burkland Flowers building. Robinson isn’t sure when it will be completed beyond the facade that will be ready for her June 11 grand opening. The next step is adding a greenhouse on the side of the property where Robinson will grow her own flowers, and repairing the three garages attached to the back of the building. Last year, Robinson bought a side lot that she’ll use to store mulch and gravel.

“I’m just going to keep working until it’s there,” she says. “I just keep moving back in the building. With every yard I do I can move further into it.”

As she prepares to get into the thick of the lawn care season – Robinson says the warm weather helped business a bit, but it was still too cold to do much planting – she is on the cusp of finishing her fight to get her business up and running. Her thoughts aren’t entirely on what she’s accomplished so far, but what others can learn from her experience.

“You can do it. I don’t care what anybody says. I’m living proof,” she says in the lobby of her Show Stopper Landscaping. “People here don’t believe anything can happen and they keep working minimum wage jobs or selling drugs. I’m 50 and I’m living proof. I’m not giving up.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.