Selinsgrove, PA – For years, business owners and student-residents have voiced concerns regarding town-gown relations. Susquehanna University administrators, it is claimed, actively work against local small businesses in order to keep students from spending money off campus. While there has always been speculation on the matter, the postal service delivered hard copy with Tuesday’s mail. SU’s message to students and alumni: stay out of the downtown.
In an alumni mailer for Homecoming weekend being held September 9th-10th, SU warns “don’t head downtown where it is crowed and hot!” The slight against Market Street is the opening line for the 8pm to midnight activities on Saturday September 10th. The description continues asking alumni to “join us at [Trax] the campus nightclub” for a performance from Harrisburg area cover band, Green Eggs. The $10 per ticket event includes food and “the bar will be open.”
An employee in the SU Alumni, Parents, and Donor Engagement office confirmed that the flyer was sent from the university. However, messages for Asst. VP of Alumni, Parent, and Donor Engagement Becky Deitrick as well as the university communications office went unreturned.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we were crowded downtown” lamented Helen Walter, president of the Selinsgrove Chamber of Commerce (SCOC), after being told what the flyer said. “It’s not very helpful” for the community Walter continued, “we are trying to build everyone up.”
“I really don’t agree with any message that deters people from supporting local businesses” said George Zirkel, a senior at SU who narrowly lost a late write-in campaign for borough council last year. “Particularly when that is such a huge weekend” for local businesses. Zirkel’s campaign stressed the need to rebuild bridges between campus and the community, particularly between students and local residents. Zirkel questioned that he is “not sure what benefit the school has by drawing people to Trax.”
The public website for homecoming weekend is scrubbed of the jab at downtown Selinsgrove. Rather, both Bot’s Tavern and BJ’s Restaurant are highlighted for hosting a Friday night “gathering” for the reunion classes of 1976, 1981, and 1986.
BJ’s manager Heather Harriman isn’t worried about losing business for the evening. “I am not taking it personally” Harriman said. Noting that BJ’s will likely be packed because of the extra people in town for homecoming, Harriman said “If it keeps the kids safe having them stay on campus to party that evening I am all for it.”
Bot’s Tavern owner Rick Shuck, however, was speechless when he was shown what the flyer said, “My first look and I can’t believe what I am seeing.” Shuck doesn’t have a problem that events would be planned for on-campus that weekend. “It does make sense from a safety standpoint and we will likely be at capacity” Shuck explained. “But, you and I both know that nothing goes out from that university that wasn’t checked, screened, and checked again by some administrator.”
After a few moments to compose his astonishment Shuck said “I think it is counterproductive to the relationship of the University and the Downtown Businesses. I would like to know what administrator approved this. I would like to speak to those who did approve it.”
Rick Shuck is right. So is Heather Harriman. And so is Helen Walter. Nothing leaves a multimillion dollar corporate environment without being heavily scoured. Certainly there has to be a way to promote on-campus activities, that may help prevent avoidable accidents, without trashing the community that makes having a campus possible at all.