By Terry Duffy
Past days and weeks have seen some significant economic news for the Village of Youngstown.
Recently it was announced KeyBank will be closing its Youngstown branch effective June 1 to consolidate with a KeyBank branch in Ransomville. All accounts currently at the Youngstown branch will automatically be transferred to the Ransomville KeyBank branch at 2547 Youngstown-Lockport Road.
KeyCorp spokesman Matthew Pitts told Buffalo's Business First the move was part of an ongoing review by KeyBank of its branch network and changes in customer traffic.
"KeyBank's decision to consolidate this branch is purely a business decision based on customer traffic and should in no way be perceived as a negative reflection on Youngstown or the performance of the employees Key has (there)," Pitts said.
He noted the Youngstown property, a First Niagara branch prior to the KeyBank takeover, would be put up for sale by KeyCorp following the closure.
On the heels of KeyBank, comes news of yet another closure - that of Melloni's Market Place on Lockport Street.
Earlier this month it was learned Market Place operators Lou and Diane Melloni had decided to place the Youngstown property up for sale.
"We just want to assure everyone only the building is for sale. Melloni's is looking to relocate to a smaller building to concentrate on catering, specialty meats, deli and prepared foods," a Facebook post read earlier this month.
The Sentinel was told at the time that the couple was out of town and unavailable for comment; attempts for a follow-up were not successful.
This week, again in a Facebook posting, came the following, "Melloni's Meats and Catering will be locating to 1000 Ellicott Creek Road, Tonawanda. The new location is anticipated to open by May 2018. At this point there is no closing date for the current property in Youngstown.
"The new location will consist of the butcher block, deli and catering service. Customers will be able to purchase Melloni's famous homemade Italian sausage and butcher block favorites from this location.
"Catering will operate solely out of this location upon its opening. Bookings for caterings can continue to be made by calling 754-8914 or 219-4105.
"Look to Melloni's Market Place and Catering Facebook page for continued updates on the relocation process."
There was no information provided on how long the current Melloni's Market Place would remain open. Visits to the store are now finding increasingly barren shelves.
As expected, the news of both closings has been met with both disappointment and frustration from the Youngstown community.
Town of Porter Supervisor John Duffy Johnston issued the following statement.
"I would like to comment on the recent business closing in the Village of Youngstown. KeyBank has informed the residents of the Youngstown branch closing in June of this year. When this was announced, it was upsetting to myself and the staff at the Town Hall. Then I started to receive phone calls from our residents asking me if I could do anything about this.
"I contacted the KeyBank official that I knew and was told that this decision was final and there was nothing that could be done to change it. I asked them why you would close in June; that is right in the middle of our tourist season and visitors need to be able to have access to an ATM so they can spend money at our local businesses. At least leave the ATM at the entrance of the bank open; they did agree that was a smart idea and would look into it.
"I reached out to politicians at the St. Patrick's Day parade; Assemblyman Mike Norris was there. As a community we need to reach out to our state senator and assemblyman and ask to get another bank in Youngstown. Evans, M&T or Northwest would be options, if KeyBank is willing to sell the property.
"Then I heard that our only grocery store was relocating and thought, 'How much more can this village take?' The Mellonis have been nothing but kind and unbelievable owners and a great family. When you have a spring and summer like the one we had, how can small businesses survive? The water levels were so high in our river and lake that there was no boat traffic from other ports, our own residents were unable to launch their boats. That leading to no beverages, chips, ice, hot dogs, etc., being bought at the store.
"All of the businesses in the village have suffered. Unfortunately I don't have an answer. Maybe an IGA can be enticed to come to the village. Please don't give up and have your voice heard."
Upon hearing the KeyBank announcement, the Village of Youngstown Board of Trustees invited residents to sign a petition to convey the negative impact the decision will have on the community. The petition, now available at the Youngstown Red Brick Village Center in the clerk's office and the Youngstown Free Library, is still in the process of being compiled and will be forwarded to KeyCorp officials.
"We've got a petition going for people to sign if they were against the bank leaving, which we all are," Youngstown Mayor Raleigh Reynolds said. "There's a few signatures on it; it's here and in the library and there's others out there circulating petitions, people writing letters."
Commenting on Melloni's, Reynolds said, "We're definitely sorry to see them leave; they were a great place here in the village. I haven't had a chance to talk to them; I don't know what all their reasons are.
"I know last year we had the high water levels; I know our whole boating season was off because of that. And definitely in a place like Youngstown, the businesses have to do the majority of their business in the summer, because winter gets pretty slim.
"Obviously, we're sad to see both places go. (But speaking) as the village mayor and the Village Board, those are independent businesses. We can't make them stay here."
On the possibility of luring a new bank to replace KeyBank, as well as looking at Youngstown's overall future, Reynolds said he remains optimistic.
"We've put a couple of feelers out; we've talk to one bank in particular. Evans Bank has come into talk with us; they talked with the town," he said. "That shows some promise from the village municipality banking perspective. Their closest branch is in Lockport. We've been talking with them, saying it might be worth putting a branch up here."
Commenting on his village, he added, "I think part of the problem is we're pretty much a bedroom community. The people live here, but work somewhere else, and I think they're stopping elsewhere. And it makes it tough."
"Some people may say the village is about to die, it's about to go under. I say it's not the case," Reynolds argued. "Look, we've had (other businesses come and go)" - noting past stores, even a car dealership that have since moved on. "Those places went away and Youngstown didn't fold up. So we're still here and moving ahead."