Changing Times

COVID and consumer trends have driven dramatic turnover of downtown State College businesses.

Snap Custom Pizza restaurant

After two years of mandated closures, capacity limits, staffing shortages, and skittish customers, downtown State College has emerged from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic strong, but not unscathed. “From the retailers I’ve spoken to, the last six months have been wonderful,” says Lee Anne Jeffries, executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District. “I think people are ready to get out.”

Eager customers won’t find the same downtown that they knew in 2020. According to Jeffries’ records, 16 businesses in the Borough of State College closed in 2020, five more in 2021, and another five in the first 4 1/2 months of 2022. Those casualties included longtime staples Baby’s Burgers & Shakes, whose owners retired and put the business up for sale in August 2020; Saints Café, which closed in December 2021; and Woodring’s Floral Gardens, whose owners shuttered their Allen Street storefront this May. (The family-owned flower shop, which marked its centennial this year, will still operate from its Bellefonte location.) The Days Inn State College and Mad Mex restaurant and bar also closed, to be replaced by a six-story residential building. And The Deli & Z Bar and Bar Bleu closed last August, when landlords opted to not renew their leases, according to Dante’s Restaurants director Jennifer Zangrilli ’90 H&HD.

Countering the losses, 16 businesses opened downtown in 2021, and another five in the early months of 2022. Jeffries says the presence of the university is a stabilizing force: “As long as we have a functioning Penn State, downtown State College is a happy town.” One of the biggest changes, she says, has been the shift to online shopping, delivery services, and quick pickup options. “Convenient and fast [is] not necessarily great for a small town,” she says. “Habits that changed from COVID are affecting visitation. I do feel optimistic about [our] direction. We’re trying to make downtown a destination.”