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One Town’s Struggle To Survive In Hard Times: Associated Press On Warren Ohio

05/23/2009
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shape-writing_fabien_udr_01By Helen O’Neill, The Associated Press

The auto plants and steel mills, once the lifeblood of Warren, are ghosts of their former selves. Plants lie idle, shifts have been cut, and the huge parking lot outside the Lordstown General Motors factory is nearly empty. The Golden Gate restaurant and Mary M’s, fixtures for years, are shuttered. Houses are boarded up. Businesses have given up on downtown.

There is a saying among old-timers in this gritty river town: What
recession? We’ve been stuck in one for 30 years. Yet even stubborn
Warren, a town with a dwindling population of about 43,000 in
northeast Ohio, is being tested like never before. And folks talk of a hopelessness, a weariness of spirit that is pervading every aspect of life.

“It’s like lives are being stripped away whole,” says Pam Bennett, 55, a retired high school secretary who volunteers at the Warren Family Mission, where hundreds of people flock every week for food and clothes and shelter. Many are families with small children. Many have lost their jobs. And many are coming in for the first time.

There was a time when jobs – good-paying jobs – were plentiful. People like Bennett’s husband, David, marched straight out of high school and into Delphi Packard Electric Systems, once one of the area’s largest and best-paying employers. Now the auto parts plant operates with a skeletal crew. After 37 years, Bennett has been told his health benefits will end when he retires, his pension is frozen and he will lose his job if the plant folds this summer.

And so the Bennetts have abandoned their dream of retiring to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and building a small prefabricated house where they hoped to spend sun-filled days after a life of frugality and hard work.

These days Warren is littered with abandoned dreams.

“It’s awful, just awful,” says Nick Angelo, 73, who raised six children and two grandchildren in what he says was once a vibrant, prosperous community. Now he feels nothing but sadness when he walks past the closed store fronts near the courthouse square.

“I feel sorry for the young people,” Angelo says.

Angelo, a retired high school athletic director, vividly recalls a
time when things were different, when the town sparkled with vitality and hope. It was in the early 1970s and for four consecutive years the two high school football teams – the Warren Harding Panthers and the Warren Western Reserve Raiders – won state championships. There were parades and lavish pre-game dinners at the Golden Gate and 15,000 cheering fans turned out in support.

There was a glimmer of that former glory this spring when the high school basketball team made it to the state semifinals and several thousand fans drove three hours to Columbus to watch the game.

For a week, it was as if the team held the heart of the town. Bands
played at pep rallies, restaurants donated food, and “Go Raiders!”
signs bedecked the town.

“People just desperately need some hope to cling to,” coach Steve
Arnold says. “And for a short time, we were that hope.”

Over at the Hoyt Street Church, Pastor Gerald Morgan sees the same thirst for hope. Worshipers are flocking to services in greater
numbers, though donations are down. It’s always that way in a time of austerity, he says. People turn to the church for solace and for answers they can’t find anywhere else.

The 59-year-old minister, who spent 30 years on a General Motors
assembly line before becoming a full-time pastor, doesn’t have
answers. Just a deep, ingrained knowledge of how his people are suffering. And an abiding faith that, no matter how bad things get, they will pull through.

And so he quotes from Genesis, the passage about how the earth
returned to life after the devastation of the great flood. And he tells his congregation that Warren too will emerge from this latest chapter of darkness, and someday thrive again.

Dare To Dream wishes to thank Jim and Elecpencil blog for sending us this AP article to use in our “series” of Warren “Decay to Growth” posts.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 05/23/2009 3:35 pm

    God, how depressing.

    But hey, at least we’re not Braddock, Pennsylvania! Their mayor’s dream is to get a Subway restaurant in their downtown.

    Hey—There’s a slogan for Main Street! “Warren, Ohio: At least we have three Subways!”

  2. Eric permalink
    05/26/2009 4:50 pm

    This is an outsiders view of our community as told by several residents and locals. If we choose, we can certainly dwell on this type of mentality, where everything sucks and it will never get better. Frankly, I choose to live above this and hang on to the positive things in our community. There are so many good things that work to outweigh the bad. We could easily grasp the negative and live in the gray and depressing attitude that this article portrays. Or you can wake up each morning, be thankful you have a job to go to and a family that is healthy and together. This is our lot in life and we can make the best of it or we can spend each day full of depression and saddness and regret. Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?

  3. 05/28/2009 5:26 pm

    Well, regardless of one’s personal situation, regarding health and family and happiness, there is a lot of truth to this article. Most high paying manufacturing jobs are gone. Folks are losing their jobs and benefits. There are empty storefronts littering the downtown area. This is not the vibrant area it once was. Heck, its not even the area it was ten years ago!

    In terms of hoping that a city or area will offer one upward mobility through a high paying manufacturing-type job with benefits, this thing paints a pretty sober and correct picture.

    But I do have hope. Maybe we’ll get that green tech incubator and this area cane be the silicon valley of the 21st century. Maybe the usual suspects heading up ‘downtown redevelopment’ will leave us one way or another and some concentration of private and public power will give us a downtown that isn’t a magnet for do-nothing property owners holding on to empty buildings and kids who toss bricks through car windows looking for change(as happened once again night before last in the parking deck. Again). Maybe they’ll be more than one shift at GM again one day. Maybe one day we’ll have real leadership that can get a skatepark built with their CDBG money or can do something other than waste a million bucks when handed it to renovate the Robins Theater.

    But, hey, if wishes were fishes, this whole downtown would be underwater.

  4. Patty permalink
    02/14/2010 6:50 am

    Well I for one have always lived in the area. For a number of years I have wondered about getting a storefront. Open a store with my handmade items, antiques and reproductions. Not sure if this area would be a good one to make it work. I drive a distance to other areas to get these things and little towns that have made a place that people want to go to. I drive in Niles everyday and they have even more vacant storefronts. Would love to find one with charm and that the rent is low to give a new business a break to try to make it work. I am sorry to say I have said well not warren because who goes into town. I did stop at a shop yesterday on the Square in Warren. It was a nice shop and had some charm. Walked away thinking hey maybe a shop here could be a way to go. And have open house, Easter, 4th of july, fall , Christmas and get together with other shop owners and make it a place for people to come again. I did see one vacant storefront that might have worked becasue again charm means alot and the rent was to high. But a long story short ~ I can see it!

  5. 02/15/2010 1:03 pm

    Patty, thank you for stopping by Dare To Dream and adding your insight. Many other towns envy what Warren has, it’s scenic square. I have always seen in my minds eye the very type of shops, you mentioned, around the square, along with old fashion book stores and little cafes. You may want to check out a spot that is presently available on Market Street. 169 West Market. It’s about 1500 sq. ft. and I know the rent is about $300 a month. The owner of the building will work with any prospected renters.

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