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Taste of the Month: A Facebook page is helping concession vendors connect with customers this summer

by on July 02, 2020 9:39 AM

From Arts Fest to the Grange Fair, many of Centre County’s large festivals and events this summer have been canceled because of public health concerns surrounding COVID-19. One of the many consequences of the cancelations is that the county’s residents won’t have the same opportunity for funnel cakes, French fries, BBQ, and other quintessential fair foods.

That’s where Travis Eckley comes in. 

Eckley, retired from the U.S. Air Force, set up the Facebook group Centre County Covid Concessions as a way to help food vendors spread the word about where they would be setting up throughout the area. The group started in mid-April with a few dozen members. By mid-June, it had grown to more than 7,500 and counting.

“I was just doing it to help out the businesses and give the residents a heads up and get out of the house and get some fresh air,” Eckley said. 

The first vendor Eckley saw was Scott’s Roasting, which started setting up at Tractor Supply Company in State College on weekends in early April. He reached out to friends who had concessions and asked if they were doing something similar. He started collecting the information and adding it to the group, eventually turning things over to the vendors themselves to post.

One of the people Eckley contacted is Jim Snyder, whose family owns Snyder’s Concessions, a group of 40 concession trailers selling everything from pizza to tacos to cinnamon rolls. The family also operates Big D’s Cones and Shakes in Milesburg, where Eckley’s teenage sons work. 

Snyder said that about half of the family’s stands are currently in operation. Some are set up outside Big D’s, while others are at Centre Crest and Zion Mart in Bellefonte and the Centre Hall Fire Company.

“We’re to hit some local fire companies and other local businesses to provide them with some revenue this year too,” Snyder says. “This is our full-time job, so you have to adapt whenever you can, and Facebook has been the way to go thanks to the page Travis set up.”

While Centre County has several large festivals each summer, it can be tough for new vendors to break into them. Tina Carlin, who operates Smokin Hot Butts Barbeque with her husband, Bobby, says they’d traveled as far away as Fulton County in southern Pennsylvania and Warren County in northern Pennsylvania after they could not secure spots at local events.

COVID-19 forced them to stay closer to home this summer, and they’re now set up every weekend near the Glenn O. Hawbaker facilities in Pleasant Gap. Tina Carlin says staying in one place week after week has allowed the business to begin building a local following.

Smokin Butts is a passion project for the couple, who both have full-time jobs that are not food-related. Tina Carlin says her husband has always loved to cook and stays up late smoking meat for each weekend’s sales.

“We’ve gotten invitations to do two graduation parties and we have a lot of repeat customers, enough that we recognize them when they come back,” she says. “We thought about moving around, but thought we would be better off staying in one spot so people could keep coming back.”

The concession business is also a part-time job for Danny and Darla Miller, owners of Miller’s Tropical Sno & Caramel Popcorn. Danny, a longtime teacher in the Bellefonte Area School District, says he and his wife started the business as a way to make some extra money during his time off in the summer.

This summer, they are located on Bishop Street in Bellefonte near Triangle Building Supply. They are there every weekend and other days of the week, weather permitting. Danny Miller says they didn’t get started as early as some of the other vendors did in April because they were working from home and waiting until Centre County entered the yellow reopening phase.

So far, they are enjoying a bit of a slower pace and looking forward to taking a vacation later this summer, which would be their first since starting the Tropical Sno business. They also donated to the Bellefonte Sunrise Rotary because Bellefonte Children’s Fair, the group’s big fundraiser, was canceled this year. 

“Everyone’s been affected by the virus, so we’re trying to help communities and organizations,” Danny Miller says. 

Other regulars in the COVID concessions Facebook group include Rosie’s Pierogies and BBQ by Clem, who regularly set up at Bald Eagle Area and Bellefonte Area high schools on the weekends, and Bonnie Blue’s Smokeys & Sweets, a food truck that travels to Big Spring Spirits in Bellefonte and 814 Cider Works in State College.

As the Facebook group grew, conversations sometimes turned away from concession vendors and onto bigger discussions about COVID-19, with people Eckley describes as “keyboard warriors” coming in to post political content. He changed the group’s settings to disable comments and prevent posting by anyone who is not a vendor. 

With an uncertain fall ahead for the food vendors, they may find themselves relying on the COVID concessions Facebook group as a long-term source of business moving forward. That’s just fine with Eckley, who has had requests from neighboring Mifflin and Clearfield counties asking for his help setting up something similar there.

“I enjoy helping people out, and this gives me something to do,” Eckley says. “My advice is always just to get your info and put it on there and share. People will find it.”

 

To access the Facebook group, search “Centre County Covid Concessons” on Facebook.

Jenna Spinelle is a freelance writer in State College.

 



Jenna Spinelle is a freelance writer in State College. She works in Penn State’s Undergraduate Admissions Office and is an adjunct lecturer in the College of Communications.
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