What makes a College Town a Special Place to Live

State College -

What makes a College Town a Special Place to Live

Many of the customers of The Cheese Shoppe are Penn State Alumni, and you may have seen this recent letter from the CEO of the PSU Alumni to Penn Staters, detailing a day of college town experiences, including a visit to W.C Clarke's Cheese Shoppe ... 

From the CEO...

December, 2022

Dear Penn Staters,

College towns are special! Having lived in college towns since I was 18 years old, I’ve had the opportunity to observe some great ones—Harrisonburg (Va), Greenville (NC), Eugene (Ore), and Storrs (Conn), to name a few. The one thing that makes all college towns special is the great people who make up these communities.

In my role at the Penn State Alumni Association, I am often asked what is the best college town I’ve traveled to and I usually answer with a combination of things I like about Ann Arbor (Mich.), Bloomington (Ind), and Auburn (Ala). I am willing to concede that most people living in a college town think theirs is the “best,” and I am no different. However, I would like to submit for consideration a one-day snapshot as to why State College is my favorite college town. I took the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off to run some errands

9:00 a.m. - Haircut at Fetterolf’s
Fetterolf’s is an old-school barber shop where every customer is treated like an old friend. Owned and run by Alumni Association Life Member Donna Weaver, Fetterolf’s is not only a great place to get a haircut but also a great place to “catch up” on the goings-on from all over campus. To say that Donna is a big Penn State wrestling fan would be an understatement.  Posters and pictures adorn her walls as a reminder of her favorites from over the years. On any given day you can run into professors, administrators, three-time national champion wrestler Jason Nolf, or Olympic and two-time World Champion David Taylor getting a haircut and bringing Donna up to date with latest news from across College Avenue.

10:00 a.m. – Coffee at the WC Clarke’s Coffee Roasters
If you are from my generation you may remember the sitcom Cheers. Based in a Boston bar, it featured an unusual assemblage of regulars who gathered to engage in storytelling and witty banter, and then rinsed and repeated weekly. This is the best parallel I have to explain my experience at The Cheese Shop. I was a little early to meet with life member Chris Buchignani ’02, host of the Obligatory PSU Pregame Show. This gave me the opportunity to enjoy my coffee and observe the atmosphere. Keep in mind this is not the typical coffee shop, with tables and chairs and a finely curated playlist of hipster tunes. That said, the shop is quaint and intimate and full of personality. When I arrived, the Cheese Shop's iconic personality, Bill Clarke, was engaged in conversation with Jen, a Penn State alumna who, along with her two children, were visiting from Montana and spent the better part of the morning catching up on life. I came to learn later in the morning how much Jen and her family mean to Bill when he opened up and shared the story of his wife’s passing and the outpouring of love he received from the Cheese Shop regulars. Bill wore a comfortable sweater, smoked a pipe and stood in the front corner of the shop roasting coffee beans to perfection. He stands there because that’s where the coffee roaster is, but the proximity to the front door allows Bill access to hug almost every visitor that stops in. From there the “regulars” began to file in. The milkman delivered cases of milk and sought out Bill to give him a special product for him to try. Bill gave him a bag of coffee beans to try in return. Then former Penn State linebacker Rogers Alexander walked in, and immediately the coffee beans weren’t the only things being roasted. Paul Curtis, a former groundskeeper at Beaver Stadium and current cheese shop employee, came around from behind the counter to ask loudly, “Who is the best linebacker in Penn State Football history?” The question was intended to rib his friend and neighbor, Alexander. Rogers regaled the Cheese Shop regulars with stories of his playing days and his new ventures in the Student Athlete NIL space. Like Fetterolf’s, this is a place where community is built and the regulars gather to catch up and check-in on each other. After 30 customers, 25 hugs, 10 pounds of cheese and dozens of cups of coffee, my soul was filled with great college-town vibes.

Noon – Window shopping at Harper's
Really, you can’t just window shop at Harper's! I took a stroll through the Penn State room and put a couple of items on my virtual Christmas list. Since 1926, Harper's has been a staple of downtown the clothing scene. If you are looking for the most unique Penn State apparel, then Harper's should be a stop on your list. If you stop in, you are likely to run into Nathan Vaughn, who will be eager to help you find the “fit” for the occasion.

1:00 p.m. – quick lunch at Agostinelli Deli in McLanahan’s Downtown Market
McLanahan’s is where Mondays are for meatballs, and even though it was Wednesday I got the meatball sub anyway. Those who know, know. For those who don’t, McLanahan’s is three stops under one roof, with a grocery store, deli, and A’s Pub, a self-service tap house. More important, this is a great space where students, faculty and residents gather at the large community-style tables to catch up with friends over lunch (or for a beer later in the day).

5:00 p.m. – Penn State Men’s Hockey vs. Alaska-Anchorage
This would have been the ideal way to end a very State College day! Instead we have a family tradition of getting our Christmas Tree on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so we headed over to Snow Shoe for our tree (but that’s a story for another time). By the way, our Nittany Lions won 2-1.

Of note, none of these businesses are sponsors of the Alumni Association, nor did they pay to be mentioned in this column. I mention them as representatives of the dozens of community spaces that I might have mentioned had they been part of my day, like Irving’s, the Corner Room, Lion’s Pride, Rapid Transit, Margarita’s, and Webster’s could have all been part of an “ideal” State College day. These places, combined with the special people you encounter along the way, are what makes this community my favorite college town in the world!

What are you favorite places in State College?  Share the places you must stop when you visit Happy Valley on our Facebook page

As we are in the middle of the holiday season, I wish you and yours the happiest of celebrations and a wonderful New Year (hopefully started off with a Rose Bowl victory)!

For the Glory,