NILES, Ohio (WKBN) – William Cafaro was one of the Mahoning Valley’s most influential businessmen. The Eastwood Mall he built is still run by his grandsons, as is the company that bears his name.
The story of William Cafaro has now been told in a book by Tom Welsh and commissioned by William Cafaro’s son, Anthony Cafaro, Sr., who was also a contributing editor.
WKBN anchor Stan Boney sat down with Welsh at the Eastwood Mall and told us about his new book, “The Life and Legacy of William M. Cafaro – A Man for All Seasons.”
“You’re talking about somebody who’s not only an icon of the Mahoning Valley, not only somebody who played a big role in the development of this area, but was also involved in politics,” Welsh said.
William Cafaro was born in 1913 and raised among Youngstown’s East Side Italian community. His first venture into business came in the 1930s when he opened the Ritz Bar, which Welsh says was one of the landmarks of the East Side.
“The Ritz was a bar that became so successful he was able to sell it for more than $100,000,” he said.
In the Mahoning Valley, William Cafaro’s most recognizable accomplishment was building the Eastwood Mall in Niles, but he also had a role in developing the Southern Park Mall. In fact, Welsh says it was originally his idea before Edward Debartolo, Sr. took over.
“There were some legal tangles and I’m kind of understating it here, but in any case, eventually they formed a business partnership and developed together, and Edward Debartolo bought him out,” he said.
William Cafaro was also politically connected to people like Harry Truman and John Kennedy.
He was instrumental in making Youngstown College a state university, Lake Milton a state park and getting a federal courthouse downtown. He was also a philanthropist, sometimes in small ways, like when he attended banquets at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Hall.
“William Cafaro would come in and shake the hand of every member of that staff — the kitchen staff, the dishwashers, everything — and always left a generous tip,” Welsh said.
In the dedication of the book, Anthony Cafaro, Sr. writes that it was written for the decedents of his father, so they will be inspired by his achievements.
Initially, the book will be given out to friends and family and those who contributed to its writing.
In a few months, it’ll be for sale exclusively at Books a Million in the Eastwood Mall.