Down River – Jan. 14, 2016

Downtown 1, Hogan Boulevard 0:  

Yes, children, there was a time downtown Lock Haven was so busy on Friday nights that a city policeman assisted the many pedestrians to safely cross E. Main Street, this at the Mill St. intersection.

And vehicular traffic? Yes, there were many cars and trucks on Main Street and they were able to go, not just “up” but in both directions, up and down the street (bring up the movie American Graffiti sometime to see a west-coast version of what it was like in downtown Lock Haven better than half a century ago; it’s believed the Bob Falfa role filled by a then-fledgling Harrison Ford was based loosely on county senior judge J. Michael Williamson from his teenage years; ditto the actor Charles Martin Smith who played Terry “The Toad” Fields, that role reportedly based on retired county court administrator Miles Kessinger from his days racing past the old Be-Bop on the other side of Howard).

Yep, downtown Lock Haven was the place to be a Friday night. Then Piper Aircraft headed south, just about the same time or shortly thereafter that developers followed a national trend and started putting significant commercial enterprises on Hogan Boulevard, adding to what had been limited commerce, the likes of the Dipsy- Doodle, a miniature golf course/driving range, a Crow’s Diner.

So while the tax base grew in Bald Eagle Township, Lock Haven saw the loss of much of its significant downtown merchant base. There had been a day when Main Street hosted five or six men’s stores and a comparable number of women’s apparel shops, a couple shoe stores, a pool hall (with outstanding spittoons), more than a few restaurants and yes, a state store.

Today the clothing stores are gone, as are former chain store anchors such as Grants, Penney’s, Woolworths and Newberry’s, the pool hall is history and downtown backers continue to fight the good fight to fill vacant storefronts.

One of the few downtown operations to survive over an extended period of time is the state store, now dubbed a “Wine and Spirits” store. As a point of reference, the state store goes back at least 50 years in the downtown and prior to its move across the street was housed in the venerable Simon Building at 132 E. Main St. (Remind me to relate the entire 1972 Agnes flood story which the WBPZ radio staff rode out in the increasingly unfriendly confines of the station’s third floor Simon Building offices; here’s a tease: boats going up and down Main Street caused storefront windows to be smashed out and by some miracle bottles of whiskey started to float free from inside the state store, directly below the WBPZ AM studio windows and yes an enterprising announcer or two rigged up a bucket and a rope and scooped up Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker and friends just as they were about to start their trip towards the Chesapeake Bay).

But back to the state store. About a year or so ago, the state Liquor Control Board did a study which showed the state-run liquor monopoly could do better by moving its Main Street store to Hogan Boulevard. That process was apparently well underway when local officialdom got wind of the planned relocation from the downtown and the campaign began to keep access to Jack and Johnny on Main Street.

Based on what The Record and its online component reported this week, that campaign has proved successful; the state store will stay as a downtown anchor. A victory for local retail in a changing retail environment!

These wins of any kind are difficult these days, so congrats to those who helped pull off this one. A state store remaining in a small community’s downtown can’t hurt and can only help the local continuing effort to revitalize Lock Haven’s center city commerce area.

While on the subject of liquor and the consumer, Down River hears that the return of a state store to Renovo is very much alive (the loss of that Renovo store another story in itself, the shutdown of the old store there and its mystery landlord in the now demolished Knights of Columbus building). So keep your ear open for the return of state-controlled wine and spirits to western Clinton County.

And in addition to the Lock Haven location and prospectively Renovo, why not a state store on Hogan Boulevard where the county’s heaviest traffic flow is seen? The LCB spent more than a few dollars on a study which showed a Hogan Boulevard location would be better for the consumer than trying to find a parking place in downtown Lock Haven and less troublesome for a truck driver trying to get a rig of whiskey up the alley behind the present location. So if Hogan Boulevard makes more sense for a liquor outlet, how about one there too?

Which leads to: Why is the state in the liquor business anyway? Access to liquor could very well be easier if this state didn’t operate as a monopoly (Pennsylvania and Utah the only two states with such a system, we’ve been told).

Liquor store privatization was on the table in Harrisburg as part of the failed budget process for this year and like virtually every other issue of consequence on the state level, legislators chose to kick their bottles of Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels down the road (or in some cases perhaps, drink them).

Nope, nothing of consequence, not privatization, not anything else, came from the Gov. Tom Corbett administration and the current continuing Harrisburg stalemate has produced no wins so far for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican controlled legislature.

This ongoing Lock Haven vs. Hogan Boulevard chapter only reinforces the view that free enterprise, not bureaucrats or politicians, should determine the public’s access to alcohol. That’s how it’s done in 48 of our 50 states. Pennsylvania shouldn’t be in the alcohol-dispensing business.