From his office in The Winner building, James E. Winner Jr. looks over the Sheanngo River and the city of Sharon. Winner's vision for Sharon includes the revitalization of the downtown, with business people taking ownership of the planned improvements and working toward a common goal.
Winner hopes to make downtown attractive to professionals, families
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Businessman's goal is quaint European city
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EMPHASIS WOULD BE ON FAMILY AND QUALITY OF LIFE
By Jennifer Hall Herald Staff Writer
Donna Winner plants flowers on the State Street bridge. Mrs. Winner took the beautification of
Sharon into her own hands -- as her husband says he is doing with his plans.
Imagine a quaint European city where people dine downtown and walk on the street, window shopping to pass the evening hours.
It's a place where flower boxes adorn the windows and couples sit on benches watching the world go by.
Imagine that city being Sharon.
The picture is a goal of international businessman James E. Winner Jr., who says he is doing his part to revitalize downtown Sharon and make it a center for activity once again.
``I envision Sharon evolving into a European city,'' he said. ``But before that can happen, we have to give people a reason to spend one or two days in Sharon.''
The Winner, Daffin's Candies, Reyer's Shoe Store, Goldstein's Furniture and Three by the River are involved in a ``five friends'' campaign to encourage people to come to the city. Winner said that's the first step.
The chairman of Winner International, the Sharon-based holding company for a number of Winner enterprises, said he needs more business people to take ownership of the planned improvements and work toward a common goal.
Sharon restaurant owner Jeffrey Chaser and Winner have[JU]been engaged in ongoing battles over Chaser's Chestnut Street Cafe.
Winner protested Chaser's opening of the cafe in downtown Sharon because he said he questioned Chaser's business ethics. He also has sued Chaser over construction being done on a mutual easement for the cafe and Winner's Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Museum.
Despite the feuding, Winner said he needs business people like Chaser to make his vision for downtown Sharon a reality. His vision is something he would like to see adopted by[JU]all downtown business owners.
``I don't want to do it personally,'' Winner said. ``I don't want to have to do it personally.''
More traffic, gift shops and restaurants without alcohol are the types of establishments Winner said he would like to see downtown. Family and quality of life need to be emphasized, he said.
Winner, who has purchased several buildings on State Street, also would like to see more people living in downtown Sharon. And to do that, he plans to turn the upper floors of some of the buildings into loft apartments suitable for young professionals.
Winner said he can probably get a few apartments ready fairly quickly for people to rent.
``I would like to see them living there and putting window boxes of flowers out,'' he said. ``In the evenings, they would be walking the streets and it would be an automatic control of vandalism. I think that very quickly this will become the place to live.''
City officials have been cooperative in helping Winner's plans become a reality, he said.
The city recently purchased the buildings housing Ideal Bakery, Szabo's Jewelry and Reliable Insurance, all adjacent to The Winner fashion store. After the city demolishes the buildings, Winner will build a three-story structure to complement his other building.
The bakery has closed its Sharon store and the jewelry store will close Dec. 31. Edward J. Chirilla of Reliable Insurance did not return repeated phone calls Monday.
``They (city council and officials) too have the same goals _ to make Sharon a prosperous place and the place to be,'' Winner said.
By putting all of this effort back into the city, Winner said he is encouraging young adults who go away to college to return to their hometown.
``I'm giving them the opportunities to come back through jobs and housing,'' he said.
But at age 67, Winner knows he has a limited time to see his ideas become a reality.
``I have no thoughts that I am going to live forever,'' he said. ``I'm a realist, but I know this can work for downtown.''
Winner has shared his plans with his family and believes that they too love the city and will continue his vision.
Winner sees his plan as part of his legacy, and he hopes to leave his mark on the Shenango Valley.
``I want people to remember that I came in here and left it a little better,'' he said.