Tommy Simon: A Youngstown Cultural Legacy

By Elizabeth Lehman

Thomas J. Simon, better known as Tommy, passed away Nov. 10, leaving behind a rich cultural legacy within the Youngstown community.

Simon opened Cedar’s Lounge in downtown Youngstown on Hazel Street in 1975 and operated it until 2008. His daughter, Mara Simon, and her partner, Billy Danielson, took the reins after that. They now are the owner-operators of the new location on Steel Street on the West Side, where the club moved to in 2013.

Brady Secre was a frequent patron of Cedar’s over the years when she lived in the area. She said to her, Simon and Cedar’s were one and the same. She said Simon created a sense of inclusion where everyone fit in.

“Whether you were a housewife, doctor, college kid, punk rocker, drag queen, had three-foot spiked hair, a polka dotted pompadour, or looked like you had just risen from the dead, [everyone] belonged here,” Secre said. “He helped all us square pegs feel like you didn’t have to fit into that round hole.”

Debbie Hannah is another former Youngstown resident who frequented Cedar’s when she lived in the area. She remembers when her friend Cathy took her to Cedar’s for the first time in 1983.

“It was that day I met Tommy Simon. I was so excited when I walked into Cedars and Tommy knew it,” Hannah said. “I finally had found a place where I felt comfortable and entertained. Cedar’s, a melting pot of artists, musicians and eclectic patrons, became my second home.”

She said when she eventually moved away, she never found another place that was like Cedar’s and it was the first place she’d go when she visited home.

“I lived in New York City and even CBGB’S didn’t remotely compare to Cedar’s. Somehow there was a magic that happened there and Tommy Simon made it happen,” Hannah said. “Tommy Simon brought music and magic to downtown Youngstown. To this day, I haven’t found another place that remotely resembles what I found in downtown Youngstown.”

Timber Gilliland was another frequent member of the Cedar’s crew. He said Simon would often let his patrons cook up creative ideas for events at the club.

“Suddenly, we were all in charge. ‘Hey Tommy, let’s do a fashion show.’ ‘Hey Tommy, let’s have poetry night.’  ’Let’s have a jazz night, rave night, swing dancing night.’ ‘Let’s show videos and hang art and have fire eaters and skateboard tricksters.’ Done, done and done,” Gilliland said.

He said Simon was not always a man of many words, but he was an open-minded person.

“Often he would answer questions with a simple grunt, but he’d give you a chance,” Gilliland said.
Secre said people from all around the region would converge at Cedar’s, and their lives were impacted by the time they spent there. Cedar’s was definitely more than just a bar to its patrons.

“Everyone walked away with lifelong friends, exposure to amazing performances and great memories because of Tommy. Tommy should be honored for his contribution to the Youngstown music scene and the revitalization of the downtown,” Secre said.

Hannah said the legacy of Simon and the scene he helped create still lives on in the West Side location today.

“I’m so grateful for Mara Simon, Tommy’s daughter, and Billy Danielson who keep Cedar’s alive. It may not be in downtown Youngstown, but the original bar is there and it is filled with the Cedar’s family,” Hannah said.

Gilliland agreed.

“People are still coming together finding like-minded individuals,” he said. “So many found lifelong friends, lovers, marriages, children, loads of musical collaborations, artwork, poetry and laughs. Tons and tons of laughs. Thank you, Tommy Simon.”

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Tommy Simon: A Youngstown Cultural Legacy

  1. Everyone who met in the music Listening Room at YSU would all meet every Friday night down at the Cedars. It was really a great time. I’m glad to have been part of it. Thank you Tommy for memories that will last a lifetime.

  2. Comment to the article Tommy Simon The Cedars

    My name is David Simon I’m Tommy’s little brother the youngest of 7. I lived through this area and remembered when my father bought the building in 1972 renovated it and then had a bar and restaurant from the old restaurant called the Old Italian restaurant. All his four boys work together to help rebuild what was burnt from the terrible fire that the Old Italian restaurant had cause. My father ran the business from that time to around 1980. My father got sick and my mother asked Tommy to run the business to make sure that the family had income. At the time my brother’s dream originally was to become a lawyer. Giving up that dream of being an attorney to run the bar and restaurant and then just the bar., my brother had a couple bands of traditional Rock and Roll and they destroyed the bathrooms. My father told my brother not to have any more bands down there ever again, but because of the ongoing communication with Donnie Yelich, Benny Neal and Cornelius the artist he agreed to have a night of alternative music. This was the point that began the New ERA of Music. The B MINORS consisting of Donnie, Benny, John and Jody had wrote original music and played it down at the Cedars and the crowd loved it. Donny and Benny were students of the Dana school music at YSU. The students from The Dana school music were some of the people who enjoyed the venues and became part of it.

    From that point other bands came together and one of the play at The Cedars like the eight balls the Symatics the infidels Nancy Bizarro fill in the blank Saxeville rhythm and blues with Sonny from Underdog records and others. As the word caught on bands all over the country and all over the world came in to play in downtown. Tommy would go once a month to New York City to CBGB’s to recruit bands to come to downtown Youngstown and play. The Goo Goo Dolls came from Buffalo and I remember the lead singer’s mother had to come with them because she was so concerned. They didn’t draw a big crowd but my brother told them if they would come once a month for one year they will draw a crown. After the first year they drew a crowd so big they were lines outside the door and MTV was at the Cedars at the edge of the bar signing their first record contract. Later when the Goo Goo Dolls were playing at the Canfield Fair they had sent 28 tickets to the bar with a letter stating we remembered where we started. Other bands such as; Maroon 5 and Psychedelic Furs and the Producers played down at the Cedars and was enjoyed by the crowds that had vision. The Cedars was 10 years beyond its time. The music that was played in the 80s became the music of the 90s. Oh wow the State Theater was having bands and of course quitting around midnight, the bands that cost $1.01 or 101 night to get in, band such as Eddie Money, Pat Benatar, Todd Rundgren, The Police on and on and on that ended up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, such as the bands that played down The Cedars have and will end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After the State Theatre bands we’re done the crowd that new about the Cedars would come over and finish the night listening to the new era of music. The Entertainer’s such as Eddie Money stopped in as well; it was a wonderful experience meeting a lot of these entertainers in the early days.

    One of the moments that touch my heart was when I was sitting at the edge of the bar watching the Cleveland Indians play on television one Saturday afternoon. A woman came in and sat three or four stools down from me. She asked me how does a band actually play down here and I responded a CD and a short resume for Tommy to look at and then he’ll call you. I then ask her name and she said my name is Jen Chapin. I said you’re not Jen Chapin Harry Chapin’s daughter who he wrote a song for at 1 year old. And she said yes that’s me. I had then told her that she didn’t need a CD or resume, when can we have you down here. She lived in New York City and she wrote songs just like her daddy and has to voice that is like an angel. So we set up a dinner and a show a total of 3. It was a wonderful experience. We’ve been in contact to this day and she sent her condolences for Tommy.

    Besides the music when the restaurant opened in 96 again, we had Mediterranean cuisine and the food was made from scratch and everybody loved the patio, it was an experience.

    I feel very fortunate to witness all this and to live in that ERA and to meet so many that came to Tommy showing and funeral. There is a song called the “Line between the two” by Mark Harris. He says there’s a beginning and there’s an ending, dates upon a stone, and moments between them is how we will be known. After witnessing the showing at the funeral home and the Mass. Tommy left a great legacy of relationships, because you see I never saw a Brinks truck following Hertz to a funeral. I believe wealth is then all the relationships that we build that we can carry to the next life.

    I personally wanted downtown to grow and to witness this amazing musical era it created so I committed myself to building the downtown community Entertainment District and making sure the convention center was going to be built (YEADA).

    I will end with this, Tommy is at peace. He with his earthly father, relatives, Our Father in Heaven, Jesus Christ, The Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints. I will tell you that because I know that in my heart. So peace be with you and knowing we will see Tommy again.
    David T. Simon

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