Richard Rosenthal, the founder and longtime owner of Youngstown’s iconic surplus store, Star Supply, died on July 30, 2019 at 77 years of age. He wryly advertised the colorful and widely loved store as “Youngstown’s Second Great Wonder.”
The store’s eye-catching exterior features artistic metal shapes and tubes branching and slithering in all directions and painted in bright yellows and greens, which are hard to overlook as you approach downtown Youngstown on Mahoning Avenue. Out front, a giant slingshot mounted on a camo-painted automobile looks ready to fire. It is impossible to drive by and not wonder what the heck is going on in this place.
All around Star Supply, Richard created an array of hilarious and corny signs. Outside, one boasts, “Flea Market Prices without the Fleas!” and another claims “We’re Embarrassed, You Caught Us with Our Prices Down.” The most descriptive sign simply says, “Star Supply – an Adventure in Shopping.” And this is exactly what Richard set out to accomplish, and achieved, with Star Supply.
Richard’s story began in the Bronx, New York where he was born in 1941 and lived until he was nine, when he moved with his father Nat, mother Hannah, and sister Joan to New Castle, Pennsylvania. His father sold used and surplus motors and mechanical goods in New Castle and Richard eventually learned some of his future trade here, and as he often said, some lessons in how not to run a business. He started attending YSU as an engineering major and then later switched to the business school. When he described his days in college, he would laugh and say, “I worked extremely hard not to study very much.”
Richard married Pat Booher of New Castle in 1964 and the two of them raised three lovely children, Lisa, Seth, and Mila.
A disagreement with his father led Richard to strike out on his own. In 1968, with a young family and very little money, but with the partnership of his wife Pat, he launched Star Supply. He admitted later that his prospects for success did not appear bright but he persisted anyway. Over the years he developed a unique combination of a surplus store and a hardware store with goods that appeal to a wide range of people. He not only attracted handy and skilled do-it-yourselfers, he offered an incredible variety of fascinating and useful items that made less mechanically inclined people want to check in to see what was on hand. This might include serious construction materials like steel tubing, countertops or shower stalls, or could veer off into cosmetic home items like pillows or lamps or shelving. As a sign said outside: “Thousands of Items for Your Home or Business.”
In 1989, Richard married a second time, to Connie Hill of Andover, Ohio, with whom he shared a love of funky art and design, landscaping and gardening, goofy jokes and good-natured pranks.
Richard also delighted in his four lively grandchildren, now teenagers: Lisa's daughters Vy and Van, and Mila's children Ivan and Elektra. His playfulness and mischievousness made his grandchildren say that their beloved grandpa was like a big kid himself. He also enjoyed his nieces and nephews.
One of Richard’s greatest satisfactions with Star Supply was that it helped all kinds of people do all kinds of projects. Some people came with a plan and got what they needed, like porch screens or new windows. Others came just to brainstorm and then designed something new, inspired by stuff they found, like the teenagers who made a prom dress and tux from duct tape and the ambitious metal worker who built an entire automobile. Fortunately, this magic will continue despite the passing of Richard Rosenthal. The family plans to keep Star Supply going into the future, which will be a great relief to its many devoted shoppers.
Richard was generous to his friends, acquaintances, customers, and to his community. He loved to make surprise gifts of everything from rolls of tape, to toy trucks, to HAZMAT jumpsuits, to WWII antiaircraft range indicators, to high-tech toilet plungers. He contributed to the community with gifts of his time and money, materials from Star Supply, and labor by his crew. To name just a few of the many projects and organizations he supported: The Mahoning Commons Association; WYSU 88.5 public radio; OH WOW! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children's Center for Science & Technology; Common Wealth, Inc., a non-profit community development corporation; and the Liberty branch of the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library.
He supported the arts and artists – buying art he loved, hiring artists, donating supplies, and working with sculptors to design and build the installations surrounding his store. He was the driving force behind the founding of the Oakland Center for the Arts, which was named for one of Richard’s buildings, the former Oakland Motor Car dealership on Mahoning Avenue, where he donated space for the fledgling organization. Other arts groups he supported included The Youngstown Playhouse and Easy Street Productions.
One of Richard’s stories (and he had a lot of them) was about a friend of his who wrote his own obituary in advance. The obituary opened with the audacious line, “A mighty oak has fallen!” Possibly as a prank, someone published it while the friend was still alive.
Sadly, Richard Rosenthal is no longer alive and this is his real obituary. While it was a punch line for him, those of us who miss him genuinely feel: “A mighty oak has fallen.”
A memorial service will be held on Sunday October 13, 2:00-5:00 PM, at the B&O Station 530 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown OH. Everyone is welcome to come and share their favorite stories about Richard.