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State of Retail in State College: College Avenue

by on March 13, 2011 6:00 AM

Editor’s noteThis is the fourth part of an ongoing series entitled “State of Retail in State College.” From struggling areas to the more bustling shopping centers, we’ll examine the main retail sections of State College, with an eye on openings, closings, and the attendant challenges of the retail business. Look for the column every other week, and keep us updated on what you want to see. As always, we appreciate your feedback.

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by Matthew Groves

College Avenue is fertile ground for businesses specializing in cheap eats and T-shirts. But the downtown street that borders the Penn State campus has recently seen an influx of new businesses—and (thankfully) there’s a lot more to buy than just pizza. Here’s a look at what’s changed.

Farewell to Pizza Hut and Pacman

In the past several years, College Avenue has lost Campus Casino, two Roy Rogers, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Playland.

To the chagrin of local youths (such as myself), Playland closed in 2003 and was replaced by The Family Clothesline. Campus Casino, which was on the same block as Playland and was known for its pool tables, is now Metro.

A Roy Rogers was right next door to Campus Casino, and was replaced by Old State Clothing Co., which moved to 100 E. Beaver Ave. The other Roy Rogers was in Taco Bell’s current spot. Burger King became The Crowbar, then the Cell Block, and currently The Mezzanine. Meanwhile, Pizza Hut became the Sports Café and Grille, and now the 797 Lounge.

Sugar U

Instead of Campus Casino we have Campus Candy, which opened in early March at 346 E. College Ave. With bright colors inside and out, the spot has been attracting plenty of curious customers.

“We are a location-driven business,” said regional manager Jerremy Deckard. “We go where the people are rather than try to make people come to us.”

Customers can mix and match different varieties of candy—and there are many—for one standard per 1/4 lb price. Want your chocolate-covered gummy bears to go? Delivery is coming after Spring Break, according to the store’s Facebook page. Campus Candy also sells frozen yogurt in flavors like Strawberry Kiwi, Tart N Tangy, and Yellow Cake Batter.

Campus Candy currently operates exclusively in college towns, with State College being the latest addition to a business that includes Madison, Wisconsin; Austin, Texas; and the original Campus Candy in Bloomington, Indiana.

Deckard says State College is a good fit because of its location. “You are only three hours from Philly, Pittsburgh, New York,” he said. “You get kids from everywhere—East Coast and West Coast.”

Happy Valley Fro-Yo Craze

Campus Candy isn’t the only downtown business attempting to cash in on the fro-yo craze. Kiwi Frozen Yogurt, a Philly-based frozen yogurt shop, opened earlier this month at 324 E. College Ave.

The family-owned business opened its first shop in Cherry Hill, N.J., in 2009, but its origins can be traced to Happy Valley. Co-owner Matt Mealy graduated from Penn State in 2007, and has wanted to bring Kiwi to State College since launching the business.

The town is tailor-made for frozen yogurt, said Matt’s sister and co-owner Ryan Mealy. “With the 40,000-plus students who attend Penn State, as well as the numerous families in the local area, State College certainly provides a solid customer base.”

New Kids on the Lunch Block

A little farther up the road is Crisp, located at 200 E. College Ave., which opened about a year ago. The place brands itself as a soup, salad, and juice bar for anyone who wants to eat healthy.

Co-owner Robert Monzillo also owns Access, a women’s clothing store on the same block at 224 E. College Avenue. When he got the chance to open another State College business, he chose one that reminded him of his hometown.

“I’m from New York City and in the city they have one of these on every corner,” he said, “It seemed like a good idea for State College.”

Currently, Crisp is open only for lunch, but as the business grows, Robert plans to extend the hours.

Another lunch newcomer to College Avenue is Get N Go Eats, which opened the first week of January at 418 E. College Ave., next to the Mezzanine Night Club. The Turkish-American restaurant was created when Serkan Ozleblebici and William Satoyan noticed a lack of Middle Eastern food options in the area.

“The mix of foreign and more local students makes us feel we can succeed in downtown State College,” Ozleblebici said.

The place serves dishes that, while commonly found at street vendors in big cities, are typically hard to find in a small towns. Menu items include doner (better known as a gyro), falafel, hummus and rice pilaf. While Get N Go Eats is targeting a lunch crowd, it’s also catering to students with late-night munchies, staying open in till midnight on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

A College Avenue Anchor

While College Avenue can seem like a revolving door of stores, some downtown businesses have been a mainstay in the community for years. Moyer Jewelers has had shops downtown since 1949, with a store at 100 E. College Ave. since the mid-'70s.

So what does it take to succeed on this block? Employee Krystal Ernecosf boils success down to two ingredients: customer service and a quality product. The former entails “steady hours,” as well as employees who “want to be there” and understand a basic premise of retail: the customer always comes first.

Businesses around Moyer have come and gone, but Ernecosf said the turnover isn’t necessarily bad.

“There are times when things seem to be on the downturn, but there is always something new on the horizon,” she said. “There are bonuses that come along with new people; it brings freshness to downtown.”

We’ll continue our coverage of downtown State College in future installments. If you have any insight on the business climate of downtown State College, drop us a note at info@StateCollege.com. As always, we welcome any feedback.

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Matthew Groves is a senior in the Penn State Smeal College of Business, and will be graduating in May with a degree in Business Administration Economics. He grew up in State College and loves the community and what it has to offer. He looks forward to sticking around after he graduates, and doing something that can benefit the area.
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