Explosion Fallout: Youngstown Downtown Businesses Struggle Amidst Multiple Challenges

Youngstown, Ohio – The recent explosion at the Realty Tower has dealt a devastating blow to downtown businesses in Youngstown already struggling from road construction, the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and other challenges. Despite the hardships faced, business owners remain resilient, attributing their continued operations to the support of loyal customers and the community.

Downtown restaurants have been hit particularly hard, facing a series of obstacles since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. With restrictions on public gathering places and remote work mandates, many employees never returned to downtown establishments. Anne Sabella, co-owner of Avalon Downtown, acknowledges the challenges faced by businesses but praises the community for its unwavering support.

The explosion on May 28 claimed the life of one individual, Akil Drake, and left several others injured, displacing residents of the tower’s 23 apartments. Following the incident, neighboring buildings were evacuated due to the imminent risk of collapse, impacting businesses like the Stambaugh Building, which remains closed under the direction of the city fire chief.

The explosion occurred during utility line relocation work by GreenHeart Companies LLC, contracted by the city, resulting in the cut of a pressurized gas line. Questions have been raised about the emergency contract awarded by the city without a bidding process and the lack of acknowledgment of work being conducted in the tower’s basement at the time of the explosion.

YO Properties, the building owner, expressed shock and sadness over the tragic event, pledging to investigate the causes behind the explosion. Legal action has already begun, with a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Drake’s family against multiple defendants, including property management companies and gas utility providers.

In the aftermath of the explosion, downtown businesses continue to struggle, exacerbated by ongoing road construction projects and the Smart2 initiative. Business owners, like Mark Canzonetta of Bistro 1907, express concerns about the uncertain future and the impact on employees who rely on unemployment benefits during these challenging times.

City officials have promised assistance to downtown businesses, with Mayor Jamael Tito Brown emphasizing the importance of supporting local establishments. However, the road to recovery remains uncertain, with businesses like Mahoning Snacks reporting significant declines in foot traffic due to the disruption caused by the explosion.

Despite the challenges faced by downtown businesses, there are glimmers of hope for the future, such as the ongoing renovation of the Apollo Building by owner Tim Huber. The project aims to create a multi-purpose events center and restaurant space, providing new opportunities for businesses and revitalizing the downtown area.

As the community comes together to support affected businesses and residents, the road to recovery for downtown Youngstown remains a collective effort. With uncertainties lingering, stakeholders are hopeful for a brighter future, driven by resilience, innovation, and community support.