I live in a place that changes all the time. State College is a college town, with the main campus of Pennsylvania State University located here. We have construction and new developments all around the area, for retired people moving back, professors and their families, and students that need off campus housing. I used to know the names of all the streets, but now there are a lot of streets I don’t know. Businesses come and go, especially downtown and in the mall, and old buildings get torn down for new ones.
There are some businesses and buildings that have remained for decades, standing in the middle of all of this change. I like knowing that they are there, and that even though I don’t often use their services, that they make up the framework of my town. I almost never go to the Nittany Mall, for instance, but I like that it is still there. Schlow Centre Region Library is one of the anchors of downtown.
One of those mainstays is clearly struggling, and may shut down. A motel and restaurant, it has been here since before I was born. I don’t want to use the name in respect for the current owners, who are fighting hard to keep it afloat. They had to file for bankruptcy this year and have tried several things to save the business.
This place means a lot to me, as my mom used to work there and met my stepfather there too. She worked in the coffee shop in the evenings, and once in a while my sisters and I would go up while she was closing it down. We would do little chores to keep occupied and she would let us pick out a pack of Lance snack crackers or cookies as a reward. My mom was really busy at that time, and we didn’t have much time with her, so that was a chance for us to have a few moments with her. Now that I think about it, at this time we got more time with Dad, as he was with us in the evenings she worked. She eventually got a job at the university, and then attended the university. We stopped going to the business as much.
The business had a coffee shop, formal dining room, and motel rooms. It was owned by one family for decades, who were big in the community. As far as I could tell, they kept the place maintained and in good working order. Then they decided to sell the business, and I have a vague memory of it changing hands a couple of times, and now the current owners are struggling. At some point the coffee shop was closed, I don’t remember how many years ago. I would drive by the business, confident that it was the same as always and would be around forever. I had no idea it was in danger of going out of business, even when a local restaurant set up shop there in place of the formal dining that used to be a staple of the area.
Then within the last two years, the business was featured on a national show focused on helping failing hotels. I watched it and was shocked by how much it had gone down hill. So much on the property needed to be fixed, and supplies were low due to lack of funds. It was clear during the show that the business I took for granted might disappear like so many other places around here. The owners are still hanging on, but for how long?
My first reaction to losing this business, which I haven’t been in for five years, was that I didn’t want it to go away. It means something to State College and it is important to this area and its history. It is important to my history. But is it really? Today, I don’t know. I went by it yesterday and saw a new sign up for their new smoking bar. Another attempt to bring people in, which might save the place or might not. And for the first time I felt like it was okay to let the place go. With so many changes to it, the old place I remember from growing up is already gone. I would be okay if this version of the business did close up and okay if it succeeded for many years to come.
Having said that, I imagine I would not feel so peaceful about it if the buildings were razed and something else in that spot. It would seem wrong. But I would get over it. I’m not the one who is in debt for this business and I’m not the one working every day to make it better; the current owners have a right to do what is best for themselves.
We have lost a lot of businesses and places in State College in the many decades I have lived here, but we have gained some good new ones too. If we lose too many historic places, we lose a lot of our history, and that would be a shame. But life is not lived in the past, however much we miss it. We have to make our lives in this area the way it is now, and very often that is a good thing.