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State College Venues, Musicians Making the Most of Quarantine

by on May 15, 2020 5:31 PM

Dante Lucchesi’s moment of clarity concerning the coronavirus pandemic came on March 7.

Lucchesi, the general manager of Champs Sports Grill and Champs Downtown, was in the heart of New York City when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced New York was officially in a state of emergency.

“I bugged out, rented a car in New York, and immediately came back to State College,” Lucchesi said. “Seeing things shut down in New York and hearing rumors [at the time] about closing down tunnels and bridges and isolating the city definitely put the panic in me to get back.”

Lucchesi and other Happy Valley Restaurants figures, who run Champs and other local favorites like the Phyrst, Local Whiskey, and Happy Valley Brewing Company, held an emergency meeting the following day.

“We went over everything,” Lucchesi said. “Initially we planned to stay open and just changed all of the protocols.”

When New York and New Jersey closed all non-essential businesses the next day, Happy Valley Restaurants leaders hopped on another emergency call because they assumed Pennsylvania was next.

“We’re just trying to be agile and able to adjust to everything,” Lucchesi said. “We knew there would be some disruption, a change of lifestyle, but I don’t think anyone predicted that this would happen so quickly.”

Members of the State College nightlife scene, like restaurant and bar owners and local performing musicians, are in the midst of an unprecedented situation regarding the weeks-long mandatory restrictions on non-essential businesses.

Curtis Shulman, director of operations for Hotel State College says the situation was “incredibly hard to prepare for.” Hotel State College owns owns The Corner Room, Allen Street Grill, Bill Pickle’s Tap Room, Chumley's and Zeno’s.

“Usually, we have actions in place to prepare for any scenario, but with this, there’s no historical evidence in place to suggest it would ever happen,” Shulman said. “It caught us off guard, to be frank. Nobody saw this virus shutting us down and putting us into six months of summer-time numbers,” Shulman said.

Hotel State College then evaluated a massive order of inventory it just received and donated as much of it as they could to the local food bank as well as their employees. The Corner Room has also partnered with local artists and vendors to raise money and distribute free food to local families on a weekly basis.

Both Lucchesi and Shulman are dedicated to following all recommendations from the CDC and other experts until business returns to normal. They both agree that predicting an accurate end to government regulations — which currently limit bars and restaurants to delivery and takeout — is impossible.

But even when they get approval to open back up, these venue owners expect business to be slow and understand many might be hesitant to go out to restaurants and bars.

“There’s a huge piece of social responsibility that is still yet to be determined,” Shulman said. “We need to figure out what the consumer wants and what’s right for people as they get reacquainted with being out with each other.”

Venue owners aren’t the only prominent figures in the State College nightlife scene adapting to the pandemic. Musicians like those in The Roof, a bluesy four-piece indie rock outfit composed of recent Penn State graduates, are facing the cancelation of live shows for the foreseeable future.

“Everybody is scrambling right now,” Roof lead singer Francis Musaraca said. “People have had to clear out their entire set of shows. They make their living playing music, and this completely blindsided them.”

Drummer Skyler Scholl, who spent many months scheduling the band’s 23-show cross-country tour that started March 5 in State College and was scheduled to go through May, said the band “didn’t anticipate what was to come at all.”

“We were hoping we could get more [shows] along the way,” Scholl said. “We were super excited, we took a month off from our jobs and left after our first show here in State College.”

Scholl admitted he fought passionately to keep the tour going but was convinced to head back when gigs started to get canceled and the band began debating if making the trek to their next stop in Kentucky was worth it.

“It was good that we did [go back],” Scholl said. “Shows started getting canceled to the point that venues weren’t even contacting us because it was implied that everything was canceled.”

Since returning home, The Roof has focused on harnessing the momentum and creative energy they built up while touring into productive home studio time.

“We’re all living together, so the shelter-in-place hasn’t affected our ability to get together, practice, and come up with new material,” Scholl said. “There are a lot of people who aren’t as lucky, I’ve seen bands doing Skype session practices and other weird shit like that.”

Since returning to State College and quarantining together, The Roof has streamed performances on Instagram Live twice, released three demos of songs written, and recorded while in quarantine.

Many local acts have been live streaming performances and taking part in online benefit concerts.

Champs has also turned to hosting virtual events. Teaming up with college nightlife app LineLeap, Champs Downtown debuted their “Social Distancing Hour,” a virtual happy hour held on Zoom and hosted by popular Champs performer DJ Rictor, on April 3.

The event, which takes place Friday nights at 9 p.m., consists of Penn State students and Champs patrons tuning into the happy hour with their beverage of choice, listening to DJ Rictor’s mix, and winning cash and merchandise prizes for competitions such as Best Zoom Background and Cutest Dog.

Lucchesi says the virtual happy hour idea stems from Champs wanting to be there for the Penn State community and give a slice of State College normalcy to seniors who were robbed of their last semester of college.

“Everyone’s hurting, so we’re hoping that everyone that wants to can participate and just make things a little better for everybody,” Lucchesi said.



Matthew Ogden is a Penn State student and a writer for Onward State
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