Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Shopping Plazas

Liberty Plaza in its Hey day

Liberty Plaza, probably in the 1960’s. Photo by Hank Perkins, used with permission of the Mahoning Valley History Society Business and Media Archives collection (http://mahoninghistory.org).

As Youngstown grew in the post-World War II years and automobile ownership grew as well, shopping opportunities began to move out from the downtown with the development of shopping plazas. Unlike some of the mom and pop stores where you either walked to them or could park on the street nearby, these were set back from the roads, usually a main thoroughfare, with acres of parking in front of the stores.

The plaza nearest where I grew up was the Mahoning Plaza. I remember when the big anchor store in the plaza was J.C. Penney’s, and there was a Mahoning Bank branch, a Murphy’s, and my favorite, the Western Auto store, where I bought accessories and replacement tires and inner tubes for my bikes. I believe there may also have been a drug store, possibly a Gray Drugs. As I started earning money, I used to buy my school clothes at J.C. Penney since I thought my fashion sense was better than my mom’s. Looking at old pictures, not sure that was so. I’ll admit it–I was a bit of a dork!

This was one of a number of plazas that sprang up around the city. On the far south side, you had the Boardman Plaza, which stretched for what seemed like a half mile along Rt. 224. Further out on Mahoning Avenue was the Austintown Plaza as well as the smaller Wedgewood Plaza off of Raccoon Road. The east side had the McGuffey Plaza, one of the first plazas developed by the Cafaro Corporation,  and the Lincoln Knolls Plaza. On the northside, there was the Liberty Plaza. There were other, smaller plazas scattered around town as well.

I dated a girl for a while who lived in Liberty Township and we could walk to the Liberty Plaza from her house. We’d shop at some of the stores and take in a movie at the Liberty Theater. I remember seeing the Beatles “Let It Be”, which would have been in the spring of 1970, when it was released. Sadly, it marked the end of the Beatles as a group. And not too long after, our relationship ended as well, and with it regular trips to the Liberty Plaza. Later on, I remember buying lots of vinyl from a record store (Peaches? Oasis? I can’t remember) in Boardman Plaza, where my mother-in-law liked to shop when we were in town. But it was around this time that Southern Park Mall and Eastwood Mall became the places to hang out and so I spent lots less time at plazas.

Almost all of these plazas have undergone fairly drastic changes. A huge Walmart sits where Liberty Plaza once did. I understand McGuffey Plaza (later Mall) is no more.  Both Boardman and the Mahoning Plazas are still alive, but with much different mixes of stores than they once had. Youngstown’s changing economy, shopping malls, standalone big box stores, and more upscale shopping developments (like the Shoppes at Boardman Park) worked together to change the landscape of shopping plazas in Youngstown, even as they began to cut into the downtown stores of an earlier era.

What were your memories of shopping plazas in the Youngstown area growing up?

18 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Shopping Plazas

  1. The Boardman Plaza was built by the DeBartolo Corporation and is considered to be the beginning of the suburban revolution in the entire country. The area known as the Uptown was also a DeBartolo Corporation development. Headquarters for the company were above the now closed drug store for many years. Cafaro and DeBartolo were rivals, and made Youngstown the shopping center capital of the United States. It was sad to see DeBartolo absorbed into Simon Property Group. The Southern Park Mall is now owned by the folks who Polaris out of Columbus. And the Cafaro’s are still doing their thing in Niles making the Valley a better place to live.

  2. Bob
    What a great post. I shopped at the Mahoning, Austintown and Boardman Plazas. The plazas sucked the life out of downtown stores. The next evolution of shopping at the two malls was a huge leap. I was entranced at the openings of both malls-just beautifully done.
    Thanks for the memories!
    Michelle

  3. Hi Bob, I lived in the Wickliffe area of Austintown and remember the Mahoning Plaza so well. JC Penny had a basement level as did Murphy’s. I remember cutting grass so I could go to Murphy’s to buy toys and at Easter getting to pick out one of the dyed peeps with the heat lamps in the pen. I got my first bike, a Western Flyer, from the Western Auto store. Then came the Austintown Plaza. My mom would buy our school clothes either at the Mahoning Penney’s or Austintown Fisher’s Dept. Store until they built the Strouss’ Austintown store. Good memories!

  4. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Top Ten of 2016 | Bob on Books

  5. Used to work at Holly and saved my “pay” for records at the little record store at the Mahoning Plaza! they even had separate rooms to listen before you purchased! Thanks for the memories

  6. Ah, Penney’s in the Mahoning Plaza. Mom was working there from the day her youngest started school. She started in giftwrap and just last week my sister-in-law commented how my brother had chided here for not having the skills he’d learned in those days.
    It was mid 60’s that the Krogers? Loblaws? closed and JCP took it over as a toy store. Best. Christmas. Ever.

  7. There was a Gray Drugs in the Mahoning Plaza. It is where we spent time looking at the latest comic books that were published. They also had a soda fountain/diner in the rear of the store. Great place to get a cherry Coke. Were there many times in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

  8. The north side of Liberty Plaza actually still exists, and the one store that I could remember always being there – since the Gray Drugs, Lustig Shoes, Stambaugh’s Hardware, Oasis Records (later Music Oasis), Mahoning Bank, and the old laundromat had long ago fled or folded – was Radio Shack. Unfortunately, that company’s bankruptcy claimed it too earlier this year. As a 40-year-old Youngstown lifer who grew up on the north side, the Liberty Plaza (what’s left of it) is filled with memories for me. There was a toy store whose name I can’t remember, but when its closing led to a liquidation sale thirty-some years ago, my best friend and I went crazy in the Matchbox/Hot Wheels department. Later, Music Oasis became a favorite haunt. My first job out of high school was in Phar-Mor while I attended YSU. Back-to-school shopping with mom and my sister at Hills and Fashion Bug (they had young men’s clothes for awhile). Grocery shopping at Mavar’s. Discount hunting at D&K and Big Lots when times were hard. Washing clothes at the laundromat when the washer and/or dryer broke down. Every time I pull into that dumb Walmart parking lot, I run into the ghosts of these places and reminisce. There’s just enough of it left to add dimension to those memories.
    P.S. – Could you possibly post a larger hi-def version of the photo that accompanies this article? I’d love a peek at what it looked like in the 60s. Thanks for the memories!

    • Thanks for sharing such detail about the plaza. I do not have a higher res photo but the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, my source for the picture, might.

  9. My grandparents lived across from the Mahoning Plaza. We would walk to Strauss Department store. Sometimes we would go to the Islay’s for a Klondike.

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