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.”