YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Christmas shopping today in downtown Youngstown is limited. There are a few stores and gift cards are available at some of the restaurants – but that’s about it.
It hasn’t always been that way. Until the malls came around 1970, downtown Youngstown was the place to be at Christmas.
Bill Lawson with the Mahoning Valley Historical Society strolls through downtown on a December afternoon. He passes by the block where McKelvey’s once stood, which brings back images of a 1940s era downtown with plenty of shoppers.
“Entrances to the stores would have been crowded. The cash registers of the stores would have been backed up. Cars, street cars and buses would be running up and down the street. Everything happened here in downtown in that period,” Lawson explained.
Christmas in downtown Youngstown traditionally started the day after Thanksgiving with the arrival of Santa. In the mid-60s, the Youngstown Rock Etts waited outside the Erie Terminal to greet Santa and Mrs. Clause as they arrived by train. Santa was given the key to the city.
A parade followed down Federal Street. Kids lined the road, checking out Miss Ohio as she rode by. Storefronts such as McCrory’s and the Richman Brothers would stand in the background.
Canfield’s Mary Ann Senediak started working at Strouss downtown in 1974. Among her collection of Strouss items, are the old red holiday gift boxes with the Strouss logos. Strouss and McKelvey’s were anchor stores to the downtown area.
“People proceeded to our windows at Strouss to look at the decorated windows and the fashion items in the windows,” Senediak said.
Downtown was always decorated with garland, wreaths and lights spanning the street, and the front of McKelveys would be lit up for the holidays.
All this was on West Federal Street, but there was an East Federal Street, too. It was lined with butcher shops, dry goods and general stores.
The suburban shopping malls killed downtown. McKelvey’s closed in 1982 and Strouss in 1986. Senediak was there when they turned the lights out.
“Yes, I was there on the last day, and we shed many tears,” Senediak said.
Downtown Youngstown is still decorated for Christmas. There are trees and wreaths, but those masses of people are gone – left for those who enjoy vintage photos and memories.