Smoky Hollow Supporters Plan Aug. 13 Festival

YOUNGSTOWN – Smoky Hollow’s houses may be all but gone but a group of people with ties to the once-bustling neighborhood aim to keep its memory alive.

Alex Zordich, Billy James and a handful of others have formed the Smoky Hollow Club and will hold its first major event – the Smoky Hollow Festival – on Aug. 13.

Smoky Hollow is a hidden neighborhood near downtown, just north of East Rayen Avenue, between Wick Avenue and Andrews Avenue.

Most people know of it because it’s where The MVR restaurant and its boccie complex are. There is not much else left in the neighborhood – grass fields now cover the land where hundreds of houses once stood. Only a handful of homes remain.

The spirit of the working-class enclave still persists, however, and the Smoky Hollow Club wants to preserve it.

Zordich’s grandparents lived in the Hollow, just a few feet from where he opened his Yosteria supper club at 252 Valley St.

James’ grandparents also lived there. Both men recall spending a lot time there as children.
The Smoky Hollow Club is open to all who have an interest in the neighborhood, not just those who trace their heritage to it, and already has a few dozen members.

“We are all about Smoky Hollow, and we’re open to anyone who wants to be a part of it,” James said. “We want to focus on what Smoky Hollow is, and what we want it to be 15 years from now.”

The first task is letting folks know the club exists. The group held an event on Memorial Day to honor veterans.

The festival will spread the word even further and build camaraderie. “One goal is to keep family traditions alive, and get as many people who lived here, grew up here or are descendants as we can, and bring them all together,” James said. “There will be a lot of story time.”

Memories fade as time marches on, but the Smoky Hollow Club intends to preserve them.
“Billy and I grew up with countless stories about the Hollow,” Zordich said. “They were constant, and they made you wish you lived back in those simpler times.

“Thank God for the Cassese family (owners of The MVR) because they kept Smoky Hollow alive. Billy and I want to honor all the traditions and make them bigger.”

Smoky Hollow was predominantly Italian, but there were other nationalities. James’ grandfather was one of the few Welsh in the neighborhood. “It was a neighborhood with churches and stores,” James said. “You can’t even picture that today.”

Zordich stressed that the residents came from many countries. “There were all kinds, and everyone just got along,” he said.

The Aug. 13 event will be a street fair centered at Yosteria, which will serve wine and pizza. James operates the Chick-fil-A restaurant in Southern Park Mall and will set up a booth to sell chicken sandwiches.

The MVR restaurant will be part of the event, and beer from Noble Creature Cask House, which is on the edge of the neighborhood, will be sold.

The club has a three-hour video of scenes from the Hollow and will show it on a 16-foot screen continuously. The festival will include a morra tournament.

The festival will be linked to the Feast of the Assumption, which is Aug. 15. It will begin with a procession in which a statue of Mary will be carried from the MVR to Yosteria. Another procession will eventually return to The MVR, where bocce will be played on the courts there.

The Smoky Hollow Club isn’t the first club in the neighborhood.

A veterans group called the Golden Eagles was once strong although it has dwindled in membership.
The club was started after World War II, James said. “It still exists,” he said. “My grandfather was one of the few non-Italian members. Over time, the membership went down, and after COVID it went down to five or six.”

The Smoky Hollow Club founders had considered joining the Golden Eagles and rebuilding it but realized they needed to start their own club.
“None of us are veterans,” James said. “We wouldn’t be doing a service to the Golden Eagles, so we started a new club.”

A website will soon be created where information on the club and membership can be found. For now, those who want to join can email Zordich at [email protected] or James at [email protected]

Dues are $50 per year.

There have been several efforts to form a Smoky Hollow group in the past but none took root, Zordich said. He feels a drive to make sure the Smoky Hollow Club succeeds.

Zordich moved back to Youngstown a few years ago from California, where he was in the wine business.
“Like Billy, I have a strong passion for this area,” Zordich said. “I moved straight from the Napa Valley and bought this house to start something here. A lot of people back in Napa thought I was crazy for doing it but there is something about this neighborhood that you can’t really explain to outsiders.”

Pictured: Billy James and Alex Zordich stand in the backyard at Yosteria, the private dinner facility on Valley Street in Smoky Hollow

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.