Off the Rail Brings Erie Terminal to Capacity

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With a soft opening four days ago, the newest tenant at Erie Terminal Place has opened its doors, filling the last vacant commercial space there.

Off the Rail took over the former Rust Belt Tap House on the first floor of the building at 112 W. Commerce St. Owners have spent the past year renovating the space, including a new bar, furnishings and paint, said Chris Sheridan, manager. A handmade chandelier complements the main bar area, along with handmade furniture in the upper lounge area. A third room includes flat screen TVs, pool tables and a dart board.

Total renovations cost some $100,000, Sheridan said, and the original flooring and woodwork were maintained throughout. The history of the building is what drew the owners to the space, she said. At the height of passenger train travel, the Erie Terminal Building was a passenger depot and office building for the Erie Terminal Railroad/Erie-Lackawanna Railway. Service there ended in the late 1970s and the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Off the Rail is gearing up for its official grand opening in January or February and looks to be brewing its own beer in time for the 2019 Groundhog Day Craft Beerfest on Saturday, Feb. 2 presented by the Rotary Club of Youngstown, Sheridan said. The first two beers will be a blonde ale and a stout, she said.

“We’re pretty excited,” Sheridan said. “We’ll do local entertainment and really concentrate on our brewing.”

Off the Rail has other beers by the bottle and on tap, including one from Noble Creature Cask House. It also offers some bar fare, including Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, chili dogs, warm pretzel rails with beer cheese, buffalo chicken dip and nachos.

Commercial and residential space is completely full at Erie Terminal Place, said Dominic Marchionda, managing partner of NYO Property Group, which is developer of the building. In April, One Hot Cookie will celebrate six years as a l tenant, while The Kitchen Post opened in Erie Terminal this past April.

With road construction finished at the corner of Commerce Street and North Phelps Street, Marchionda expects commercial tenants there to see more business.

“Thank God it’s doing well and things downtown are doing well,” Marchionda said. “There’s a lot more activity and means of getting in and out of One Hot Cookie. I imagine their business is picking up.”

The weekend that the road was reopened recently, sales at One Hot Cookie increased 50% over the previous weekend, said Bergen Giordani, president and co-owner. Other additions to downtown Youngstown, including the new Rhine Haus Bier Hall on N. Phelps Street, have driven increased foot traffic to other businesses, including One Hot Cookie, she said.

“We see people with pizza boxes from Avalon [Downtown Pizzeria] and people taking kids to Oh Wow! [The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology],” Giordani said. “It’s great to be part of the downtown community and YSU students are super supportive of us.”

In 2019, Giordani is introducing cookie cups to her cookie shops – cookies that are shaped like cupcakes, filled with frosting and garnished with toppings. One Hot Cookie has tested the cookie cups at charity events, where “they have done really well,” she said. The company is also hosting more in-store events, including its first gingerbread house workshop last week, which drew 11 customers.

“In 2019, we’re going to focus more on community involvement and being a place where people can create their own memories,” she said. Giordani and her daughter, Morgan Reamer, look to open the first standalone store for their Oh! Donuts concept sometime in the first quarter of 2019. They began the pilot for the doughnut-centered concept in August.

In a Facebook post on Dec. 14, One Hot Cookie welcomed its new neighbor to Erie Terminal Place.

“Erie Terminal Place being full is a great testament to downtown,” Giordani said. “When downtown is busy, we’re busy.”

Next year, NYO’s Marchionda looks to market commercial space of his other properties more aggressively, he said. He’s hoping to bring in more accounting and professional services, as the influx of restaurants over the last few years has left “very little first-floor commercial space downtown,” he said.

“We need to try to get some commercial tenants as far as office space,” he said. “If we can start to get some of them back, some of the law firms, that would be great.”

He expects more progress to come as the forthcoming riverfront park and amphitheater add to the entertainment options of the city, more restaurants open and more popup shops draw foot traffic, he said. He’s had some interest from national chains as well exploring options downtown and around YSU campus, he said.

“Chipotle is a big win for the campus,” he said. “I think you’re going to see similar types of activity downtown.”

Using other urban neighborhoods like Ohio City and Old Brooklyn in the Cleveland area as templates, Marchionda said such concepts are “the direction we need to take downtown,” because they prove “you don’t have to be in a big city to draw those crowds.” The Christmas parade and tree lighting in Youngstown drew nearly 10,000 people, he said.

“It’s slow to come, but the people who are recognizing the opportunity and seeing it early are the ones that are going to benefit,” he said.

In August, Marchionda was named in indictments handed down by a Mahoning County grand jury, which included former city finance director David Bozanich and former mayor Charles Sammarone. Ohio Attorney General and governor-elect Mike DeWine, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost and Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains announced the indictments, which included 101 public corruption charges.

While Marchionda declined to comment on specifics of the legal matters, he said he didn’t think the indictments impacted NYO’s ability to pursue tenants, either commercial or residential.

“Maybe to an extent. It’s something I have to get through and something we’ll figure out along the way,” he said. “But so far, knock on wood, we’re holding our own and we do have tenants.”

Pictured: Chris Sheridan, manager of Off the Rail at Erie Terminal Place in downtown Youngstown.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.