WARREN - Downtown business owner Jim Cicchillo is asking for help with a sign in the window of his planned restaurant.
Cicchillo, a local entrepreneur, is seeking advice from residents about what kind of restaurant they would like near the corner of North Park Avenue and High Street N.E., on Courthouse Square.
Because he has seen restaurants come and go in the space, he figures making a direct appeal is both a novel approach and might give the new eatery the best chance for long-term survival.
Business owner Jim Cicchillo is seen at the corner of North Park Avenue and High Street N.E. on Courthouse Square in Warren. Cichillo’s sign reads, “Coming Soon!! ???? Give us your ideas / suggestions for a new downtown restaurant. E-mail us at DownTown WarrenRestaurant@gmail.com.”
Cicchillo is taking over the recently closed Jonathan's Street Food, looking to place something fresh in a space that has had nearly a half dozen different restaurants over the last 20-plus years.
"I like the challenge of opening a new business," Cicchillo, 62, said. "I love the downtown area. I've invested a lot of money into it."
Cicchillo is hoping to ride what he believes is a new wave of businesses in the downtown that has a mix of established and newer businesses, government offices, and professional offices.
He has a track record of operating downtown businesses; he opened his first business, Four Star Travel, in 1984.
Since then, he has owned or operated Four Star Shuttle Express, Showcase Books & News, Horseshoe bar, Seal Glaze Dip Sticks, Pine Street Hot Dog Co., Chic's Bar 'N Grill in the basement of Comfort Inn, Cicchillo Development Co., and was the original owner of North Perk, a restaurant located in the same space he is renovating today.
Cicchillo was a multi-year president of the Downtown Growth Association and once owned three downtown buildings. He still owns one.
He decided to open his latest restaurant after getting a chance to lease the space at what he considers the right price. Just as important, he does not have high expectations.
"This is not a high-risk venture," Cicchillo said. "I don't expect, or need, to achieve the number of customers going to the Mocha House, Sunrise or the Hot Dog Shoppe," he said.
In fact, Cicchillo says the downtown location hurts any chances of his doing those kinds of numbers.
"People are not going to drive from Champion, Niles, Newton Falls and other areas to come to my restaurant if they have to park two blocks away," Cicchillo said. "There is not enough parking downtown."
Cicchillo has been an advocate for increasing the number of parking spaces in the downtown area since the early 1990s. Initially, he was a supporter of diagonal parking.
"They designed the diagonal parking wrong," he said. "Instead of increasing the number of parking spaces, they decreased the number."
Cicchillo suggested that Youngstown added four to five new restaurants in the downtown area after there were 60 to 70 new parking spaces placed downtown.
Warren restaurants, such as Mocha House, Sunrise and the Hot Dog Shoppe, grew their customer base after they added new parking.
"Even if the lack of downtown parking is just a perception, it is still a problem," he said.
In spite of the potential challenges, Cicchillo believes there is potential for the restaurant to develop a niche of loyal customers, and, depending on the shale boom, it can grow as the city brings in more jobs.
Tamara Kromer, who opened Trendi Fashions, 162 N. Park Ave., earlier this year, says she would like to see something done to attract people and other businesses to the downtown area.
"Sometimes it is fine, but other times it is very slow," Kromer said. "We need something to bring people downtown, so they will walk around and see what kind of businesses that we have here."
Kromer said the city should be involved in promoting the area.
"Perhaps they could give tours of places like the Upton and the Kinsman houses," she said. "There should be things happening on the square every weekend."
Wendy Wayt, whose Gifts from the Cottage, 168 N. Park, has been on the square for about 3 1/2 years, also would like to see a concerted effort to get more people to use the Courthouse Square park.
"It would be nice to see a Farmer's Market, like the one they have in Howland, or a water park, or some other regular activity that would encourage families to come downtown," Wayt said. "It is nice when they have Noon in the Park to see families come down and picnic. At times, they will walk around to see what is in the stores."
Wayt, however, is critical of the way the downtown streets are blocked off during the annual festivals, such as African-American Achievers Festival and the Italian Festival, because the city usually blocks off access to Park Avenue, pushing people away from the local stores.
Anthony Iannucci, executive director of Warren Redevelopment and Planning, which was created to encourage downtown development said the city has been seeing more interest in the downtown area.
He cited redevelopment of what is now the Raymond J. Wean building, the potential development of the Tech Belt Innovation Center and the development of the National Fire and Water Co.
"We think these things are going to spur a lot of activity and interest in office spaces," Iannucci said.
In addition, the fact Warren Board of Education moving into old Trumbull Savings and Loan building and a variety of shale related businesses are leasing offices in the Chase building is hoped to help area restaurants and other small businesses.
Greg Bartholomew, the owner of All-American Comics, 125 W. Market St., and the 4th Ward councilman, said the office spaces in the downtown area have been quietly filling up over the last five years.
"Most of them are rented," Bartholomew said. "I opened my store in the downtown more than 15 years ago, because it has name recognition and it was inexpensive to rent."
Both of these reasons are still valid.
"You can get twice as much office space in downtown Warren than you get for the same amount of money in Boardman," Bartholomew said.
It also has helped that property owner have begun fixing up their properties, from minor paint jobs to multi-million dollar renovations.
"It began when (attorney) Marty White fixed up his North Park office building, and when Thom Duma and attorney John Fowler did work on their buildings," Bartholomew said. "Others, on their own, began fixing up their facade and store fronts."
Bartholomew would like to see more retail stores placed on the first floors of Courthouse Square buildings.
"Having offices downtown is great, but I would like them on the second and third floors and retailers on the ground level," he said. "Retailers bring people downtown for both business and casual activities."
Paul Clouser, owner of National Fire and Water Co., purchased 141-145 W. Market St. in 2009, to both live in, to rent apartments and to use the first floor as retail space.
Clouser and his wife, Holly, live on the third floor of the building.
"I don't think anyone has a better view than we do," Clouser said.
The couple can see Courthouse Square and the parks.
"When we purchase it, we thought it would be a good investment," he said "Not only for ourselves, but because our company is dependent on the community, so we wanted to do something to give back to it. This is a community investment."
Clouser said there is a lot of good traffic on the square during the day for retail businesses, and, with the additional of concerts in the amphitheater and festivals downtown, there are activities available.
"I know that some people are concerned about how safe it is in the downtown area, but my wife and I never had a problem," he said.