Garden Club Plants Umbrella Alley in East Liverpool

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – Umbrellas generally are equated with dreary, rainy days. But a group of area gardeners has decided they are a way to brighten up this city’s downtown.

The East Liverpool-Calcutta Area Garden Club has taken on creating an Umbrella Alley along East Fifth Street in between the Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame/Lou Holtz Museum and the former Crooks Furniture building. Initial work started last weekend.

Garden club member Mary Beth Gill says the idea came about when she and her husband saw such an attraction in Dunedin, Florida, and he asked, “Why can’t somebody do something like this in my town?’”

With a little more than a quarter of the 80 colorful umbrellas installed in the Umbrella Alley in East Liverpool, the project took on a festive air. 

Gill replied, “I said, ‘We’re somebody, and I can get 23 of my other somebodies to help me,” referring to the garden club membership.

Club members were interested, so plans began last winter when Gill said she went to the city planning department to seek permission. She ended up speaking with Mayor Greg Bricker after a contractor indicated the city might have some issues with the project.

Instead, she relates, “Bricker said, ‘I will not give you any issues; you girls can do anything you want'” The project then got underway, including fund raising.

A $1,200 grant was secured from Hancock County Savings Bank in West Virginia, and an application was submitted for a second grant from Heritage Thermal Services. 

With $3,000 in club coffers, the grant and fund raising, members were confident their $5,000 budget for the project would be met. But it cost more than anticipated due primarily to inflation, Gill says.

She and her husband walked throughout the city, searching for the perfect location for the project, since the Umbrella Alley had to have no traffic or interfering wiring.

Seth Steele (left) and Bryan Rockhold of P&C Industrial Services work on the Umbrella Alley in East Liverpool.

They decided the Fifth Street site, with its proximity to downtown businesses and its decorative pavement, was perfect for the project.  

The 80 umbrellas in multiple festive colors were purchased from a Texas wholesaler, and contractor P&C Industrial Services of Lisbon was hired to install them in the alleyway. Small wooden tags were also purchased to hang from the umbrellas with messages on them. 

The contractor began Saturday morning hanging the umbrellas between the buildings. A wire and turnbuckle system was used to string them the length of the alley, fastening them at the top and bottom to keep them from blowing in the wind. 

Unfortunately, that plan failed to work when high winds ripping through the alley Saturday night bent and broke every single umbrella, Gill says. And so, the garden learned that umbrellas cannot be anchored down but must be allowed to move with the wind. 

That winds swept away $800 from the project budget. Gill says before purchasing another 80 umbrellas, the club will try other types and “do a little more experimenting in the next couple weeks” to see which ones do best in this situation. 

Meanwhile, the message tags offered on a first-come, first-served basis at the garden club’s annual plant sale Saturday sold quickly for $15 or $20, depending whether one or both sides are to be printed. 

Messages on the tags range from those in honor of people, in memory of loved ones, advertising businesses, or – as in her husband’s case – commemorating his high school class.

Unopened umbrellas stretch across the wires as they were first installed last weekend. This plan will be changed after high winds damaged the opened umbrellas.

“We were really nervous it wasn’t going to go over well. But we could have sold them for $200,” Gill says of the tags, which sold out Saturday for the 80 spots available along the Umbrella Alley.

Plans call for purchasing bistro tables and chairs and string lights to complete the walkway.

The umbrellas will be left up throughout the summer months as an enticement for those looking to bring their lunch from nearby restaurants, to take photos for weddings and other events, and to attract visitors to the city. 

Plans originally called for having the Umbrella Alley completed before the June Pottery Festival, but that may be delayed while the club experiments with wind-proofing the umbrellas, according to Gill, who said it will be completed before the city’s All Class Reunion June 30-July 2.

“I never dreamed this little project would blow up into something so fantastic. I’m excited. It’s going to be fabulous,” she says.

The club will have a vendor’s stand at the First on Fifth event downtown June 3 selling crafts and plants to help raise funds for this and other projects. In addition, donations can be sent to East Liverpool-Calcutta Area Garden Club, PO Box 2974, East Liverpool, Ohio, 43920. Donations are tax deductible.

Pictured at top: A rooftop of colorful umbrellas will cover this alley off East Fifth Street in East Liverpool as one group’s part in helping with the city’s revitalization.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.