Streetscape Volunteers Make Youngstown Look Its Best

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – This city, especially the downtown, never looks better than the afternoon of Streetscape.

This year’s “visual improvement project,” as the sponsoring agency, CityScape, modestly calls it, took place Saturday. For the 19th time, a host of volunteers descended on the downtown, the near North Side and the arteries that lead to the central business district to provide Youngstown with a facelift.

This year’s Streetscape saw 650 volunteers, many from the suburbs and neighboring cities, come downtown to weed and plant flowers in the islands that divide Federal Street and add mulch. They did the same to the many islands, beds and planters in Central Square and along Boardman and Champion streets.

Near Youngstown State University, HOBY, the Hugh O’Brien Youth organization, weeded, pruned and planted flowers bridges on the bridges on Wick Avenue and Fifth Avenue leading to the campus and near Wick Park. Some 250 teenagers, mostly seniors who attend area high schools, took part, said Sharon Letson, executive director of CityScape.

Streetscape passed out 600 red T-shirts to volunteers, the T-shirts crediting the many sponsors and bearing the slogan, ”This Bud’s for You.” Sue Marshall designed this year’s shirts.

Complementing the residents who volunteer are the employees of the Youngstown Street Department, Water Department and wastewater plant who gave up their Saturday.

Just before 9:30 a.m., Charles Derfl and Ellis Moody, two laborers for the Street Department, were sweeping South Champion Street of the residue where 100 cubic yards of mulch had been deposited. Only a yard remained.

In Central Square, just outside the Starting Lineup barbershop and beauty salon, seven members of the Holborn Herb Growers Guild were finishing applying mulch on the beds there after planting 96 begonias, Andrea Schoenfeld reported, as well as cannas and petunias. The guild, founded in 1979, tends the gardens at the Canfield Fairgrounds, she explained.

She introduced her daughter, Josselyn Anderson, along with Carolyn Lorimer of Boardman, Virginia Bartos of Struthers, Eva Pavlov of Austintown and Yvonne Ford and Judy Moore of Poland.

They came downtown, Ford said, because ”We’re gardeners. We want to improve the city.” Added Moore, “Youngstown tries so hard” to improve its image.

Because Youngstown has come back, the women frequently come downtown for dinner – at V2 and Roberto’s, Ford said — and attend concerts and shows at the Covelli Centre.

In front of International Towers, 1st Ward Councilman Julius Oliver was raking mulch on a flowerbed outside the entrance to Talmer Bank and Trust. It’s his second year as a Streetscape volunteer, he said, as he worked with Towers residents Derrick Wallace and Debbie Hickson. “I live here,” Wallace said in explaining why he participated.

“I also live here,” added Hickson, secretary of the Towers residents’ council. Said the president of the residents’ council, Melvin Young, as he emptied a wheelbarrow of mulch, “It’s just to be part of the community, to give back to the community. I live here. I want it to look nice.”

Just north of the Huntington Bank office on the square, city employees Ryan Reynolds and Mark Bianco were using a huge vacuum to empty a trash barrel from inside a concrete cylinder into their truck. Reynolds, a sewer maintenance worker praised CityScape, “It’s a beautiful thing they’re doing for the city.’

Displaced by the beautification efforts were several homeless men and women who walked the sidewalks, steering clear of the volunteers and little noticed by them.

Walking toward the tent outside the Joe Maxx coffee shop in the first block of East Federal Street were six employees of HD Davis CPA’s LLC, Liberty Township. They were returning from the B&O Station Banquet Hall, 530 Mahoning Ave., where they had spent the morning cleaning up refuse, Harold Davis said. “We had the whole crew over there,” he said, “picking up the garbage.”

Used water bottles were the items that made up most of the litter, Davis said, “and a few beer cans, some potato chip bags. But the number of water bottles!”

Pete’s Pride — YSU alumni and supporters — were finishing up planting begonias, petunias and celusia in a planter near Downtown Circus on West Federal Street, Bonnie Cuculich and Jim Mamounis of Poland standing up to answer questions along with George Baker. Pushing brooms to sweep up some loose mulch and seemingly hundreds of cigarette butts were Susan and Dominic Albanese of Boardman and Georgia Shearer.

Father west on West Federal Street were Marie Roller of Liberty and Linda Mottocks of Youngstown, also members of Pete’s Pride, who had planted rose bushes in the island along the street.

“It’s coming back. A lot of things are going on,” Roller said, satisfaction in her voice.

When the first Streetscape occurred 19 years ago, only 35 volunteers came forth, recalled Scott Schulick, who was one of the 35. John Lapin, operations manager of Ohio One Corp., Pete Asimakopoulos, executive vice president of First National Bank of Pennsylvania, Sue Gresh, operations coordinator of the Green Team, and Tom Sakmar, construction foreman for the city of Youngstown were four others.

Gresh and Lapin have participated in all 19, Asimakopoulos missing only one to attend his daughter’s college graduation and Schulick to attend a Rotary International convention in Japan.

“That first Streetscape took all day,” Schulick recalled, “from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. Today it takes only four or five hours.”

Said Lapin, “There was more debris. We had to use a chainsaw to cut through [overgrown] trees [on the bunker on South Champion Street]. Cutting trees down – it was just a mess. We had to use a backhoe.”

The 35 focused their efforts on the bunker and Central Square.

As the number of volunteers has grown, Schulick has observed, organizations have taken charge of flowerbeds or islands. First National Bank, for example, maintains the beds just outside its downtown offices on the square.

Letson, who has coordinated Streetscape 12 years as executive director of CityScape, is heartened by the progress. The city remains solidly behind Streetscape, she noted, City Council paying for the mulch and many businesses donating money or making in-kind contributions.

The contributions range from individuals giving $20 to four figures. “Not one donor who’s given before has ever told me, ‘Not this year,’ “ Letson said. “They continue to support us. People are good to us. They see what we do. They see how much better things are.”

Says Gresh, “More business owners are getting into the spirit of things. There’s more enthusiasm. There’s less blight. Youngstown is looking more welcoming and prosperous. And visitors from out of town see this.”

She’s also pleased to see that downtown store owners and restaurateurs are doing a better job of keeping the sidewalks clean and that some volunteers come downtown throughout the year to maintain the work they perform the first Saturday after Memorial Day.

Pictured: Sharon Letson, executive director of City Scape, works with Lou Joseph from Home Savings as they prepare to plant flowers downtown.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.