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Shandygaff and Brewery Stand Alone In State Patty's Day Closing

by on February 28, 2015 8:30 AM

In just seven short years of existence, State Patty’s Day has taken a rollercoaster ride from a rallying point of the Penn State student body to a pariah of a celebration.

Even without parking ticket endowment money from Penn State to keep bars closed, the spring quasi-holiday seems to be a long forgotten pastime for local drinking establishments.

In years past, State College watering holes would decorate themselves with shamrocks, sell green beer, and offer specials for the State Patty’s Day celebrations. But now, for the bars that stay open, it’s nothing more than an average Saturday with the typical Saturday specials.

While only two bars, The Brewery and The Shandygaff, opted to close their doors on Saturday, the town appeared to be only slightly busier than usual on the eve of State Patty’s Day. State College resident Susan Cunningham, 48, said that the town has done a great job pushing the weekend into the past.

“It’s good that the [THAW] festival is going on. It’s a good idea to bring other things to the community that might overpower State Patty’s Day,” she says. “It’s what they did with First Night, which took the focus off of drinking on New Year’s Eve and made it more of a family event. It’s a move in the right direction. It seems to be at least. There’s nobody here.”

Those words almost echoed down a barren Allen Street as the time neared 10 p.m. on Friday night. In years past, the streets would have been filled with college students, both Penn Staters and visitors, sporting green shirts and making the trek from one bar to the next.

For Brewery owner Ray Rockey, it simply wasn’t worth it to make his establishment a stop along that trek on Saturday.

“It’s just a real messy day and it’s just not worth being open from a liability standpoint,” he says. “It’s a dangerous day all around. I just don’t want to be part of it.”

Rockey says that making sure to avoid a negative contribution to the community pushed the decision over the top for him. He understands that he’s passing up on a highly profitable business day, but Rockey feels that it’s simply too stressful for him and his staff.

“There are just drunken people running around town with no regard for their own safety or the damages that they do to property and the town,” Rockey says. “My worst nightmare would be if someone got hit by a car or fell off a balcony and our town was in the forefront of the news and my establishment was involved in the event.”

He added that St. Patrick’s Day, the actual holiday, used to be a fun and positive day in State College. Rockey hopes that the borough can return to those days and wants to see the “destructive” State Patty’s Day come to an end. Just around the corner, Shandygaff owner Mark Sapia shared a similar sentiment.

Sapia says that he sided with the students when the holiday first began. He disagreed with then-university president Graham Spanier’s decision to move spring break in order to circumvent St. Patrick’s Day, which was raucous the prior year.

“I sided with the students the first year and the second year, spring break was moved back to normal. That’s when I said, ‘You got what you wanted students, now leave it alone,’” Sapia says. “From that year on, I’ve closed every year, with or without the money. I’ve lost many thousands of dollars. It doesn’t bother me. I just want to be part of the solution, not the problem.”

He made sure to add that there’s no ill will toward competitors that chose to stay open for the holiday.

“I just don’t want to be in that fold. I don’t want any part of it. I don’t care if you make millions of dollars off of it,” he says. “I’m a firm believer that if you want to stay open, stay open. If you want to sell your body, sell your body. I’m not the maker. I’m not the good lord to judge you. God bless you, good luck, and make as much money as you can.”

Cunningham says that she recognizes why bars would elect to remain open on State Patty’s Day, though she commends Sapia and Rockey for their decision. Her husband used to play music in the local bars for years, so she has a closer understanding than most of the livelihood that is earned at State College drinking establishments.

On the other hand, Cunningham says she’s happy to see the community working to offer alternatives like the THAW festival. The first annual edition of the spring festival includes musical performances, comedians, film showings, and more.

“I think that the community has done a really good job of trying to deter the people that are just coming to drink,” she says.

As is the case with any contentious situation, there isn’t a universal opinion held by the community as a whole. Adam Bugaj, 38, lives in Lock Haven but grew up in State College. Bugaj is a musician who has played the local bars for years, including a handful of State Patty’s Days.

“I don’t really participate. I know it got a little too out of control a few times and it got a bad reputation,” he says. “I’ve been around for a few of them for work or a show my band played and it’s never been too much for me to handle.”

As for the bars closing, Bugaj seemed to think it was more of a positive for competitors of The Brewery and The Shandygaff, not the community as a whole.

“That’s their decision and that’s fine. They can take the night off, give their staff a night off, and it never hurts to refresh,” he says. “It lets other bars step up and make a little more dough, so nobody’s going to complain I’m sure.”

Update (5:37 p.m.): Chris Rosengrant, owner of the Lion's Den, says that he will be closing his establishment tonight as well.

"We are officially not opening today," he says in a statement posted to Facebook. "I just got back from downtown and reached out to some community people and have come to the decision that it is not in our best interest as a business, or as a community member to open. I hope everyone stays safe and acts responsible. The last thing we need is a tragedy at Penn State."

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Zach Berger is the managing editor of StateCollege.com. He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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