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A Popular Former Downtown State College Shop Returns as Online-Based Business

by on September 24, 2020 5:00 AM

A longstanding staple in the downtown State College shopping scene has found a new home online. 

Tadpole Crossing, which was located on the corner of East Beaver Avenue and South Allen Street — where the recently-opened Central Reservation now stands — for 15 years, now offers similar products and its highly-praised customer service via an online retail space,

Cathy Horner originally opened the physical Tadpole Crossing location in 1990, offering gifts for children and adults, with a variety of items with animal and nature themes.

“I was there for 15 years and, despite the rent I was paying there on the corner, it really was a successful business,” Horner says. “I prided myself on our customer service. I hired mostly college students who stayed with me for their four years. We really were a family of employees and I’ve stayed in touch with almost all of them.”

But, she says, after 15 years of business, rent in the desirable location became “extraordinarily high” and the downtown retail landscape had changed considerably, with the departure of long-time downtown retailers and the introduction of major retailers, like Walmart and Sam’s Club, in other parts of State College. Additionally, she notes, over time Penn State football game day shopping crowds downtown diminished, as fans flocked to events closer to Beaver Stadium. 

“It was harder and harder to get people downtown, but I survived through all of that, and there are still people surviving down there,” she notes. 

It would eventually be personal circumstances and rising rent that encouraged Horner to sell Tadpole Crossing. “Unfortunately,” she says, “it didn’t survive for very long after I sold it.”

After another 15 years without Tadpole Crossing, Horner’s passion for retail remained and, at the end of last year, she began looking for a new physical location for the brand, hoping to find a storefront in Boalsburg. However, she couldn’t quite find a right fit and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

“When the pandemic hit, I thought, OK, I’m glad I don’t have a place I’m renting,” she says. “I thought, I’ll just try to do this online, even though it takes away a lot of what I enjoy about retail, interacting with the customers and doing displays.” 

Horner began reaching out to her vendor connections, with a focus on female entrepreneurs across the United States. 

“I started making some phone calls and talking to different women-operated businesses in the United States and saw I could really put together a nice selection of different items,” she says.

Now, the Tadpole Crossing website, which launched just a few weeks ago, offers an array of gifts, all from women makers and across a range of categories, from children’s items to jewelry, home decor to bath and body products.

“You’re not going to find these things on the shelves in Walmart or on Amazon. They’re small-batch items and very special,” Horner says. 

A ballerina ornament is among the many items crafted by women makers that are found in the Tadpole Crossing online shop. Photo provided.

And while Horner isn’t able to enjoy the same level of connection with her customers as she did when working in a brick-and-mortar space, she says she’s now able to connect with her vendors and fellow female entrepreneurs in new and unprecedented ways.

“I’ve been able to talk to all of these women and form those relationships. They all have their own stories about why they’ve started doing what they’re doing,” she says. “Most of them are young and I was there; when I started my first business, I was in my early 30s. It’s just fun for me to encourage other people.”

With the new online venture, Horner isn’t completely out of the brick-and-mortar landscape  just yet. Customers can find a small selection of items from Tadpole Crossing at the recently opened Belle Mercantile, 135 S. Spring St. in Bellefonte. The rotating items give customers a chance to see and touch items before making a purchase. 

Tadpole Crossing offers a wide range of items from women makers, such as tea drops. Photo provided

For those who do order online, Horner offers local pick-up at mutually agreeable locations and ships for a flat rate of $7, with free shipping for orders over $40. 

“The main reason I think I [opened Tadpole Crossing] online after the pandemic was that the types of products I carry are things that bring a smile to people’s faces,” Horner says. “They’re good gifts to give to someone to say, ‘I’m thinking about you’ or ‘thank you.’ With all the negativity in our country right now… I think it’s a good idea for everyone to think about maybe that person down the street who’s helped you and give them a little tiny pin or a card.”

Decorative pillows are among the many different items found in the Tadpole Crossing online shop. Photo provided

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, lifestyle and entertainment writer. She can be reached at [email protected]
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