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Downtown State College braces for State Patty's Day

By Joshua Ballard, Wildamie Ceus, Katie Moffitt and Anita Oh
For the Centre Daily Times
February 25, 2011

STATE COLLEGE — Green beer. Green shirts. Green beads. Green shamrocks.

To the rest of the country they mean St. Patrick’s Day, but in State College they all point to Saturday, the drinking “holiday” called State Patty’s Day that has come to confound university officers, borough officials and business owners alike.

Originally created by students because St. Patrick’s Day fell during spring break in 2007, the popularity of State Patty’s Day has grown each year, along with the partying, the drinking, the arrests and the soured town-gown relations.

Determined to tamp down the event, Penn State officials started planning months ago. A Sept. 17 report on alcohol initiatives to the board of trustees included steps aimed at “downplaying State Patty’s Day.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims’s report called for efforts to discourage vendors from promoting the day, “a game day-like law enforcement presence,” and messages about responsible behavior from student leaders and organizations. All of those things have been done. Whether they will affect what happens on Saturday remains to be seen.

The university acted on Sims’s first step Dec. 17, when he and Albert Horvath, university senior vice president for finance and business, sent an open letter to borough merchants, including bars and T-shirt shops.

The letter asked the businesses to get rid of products, displays and services that promote State Patty’s Day and the “climate of over-indulgence it encourages.”

It urged merchants to not change operating hours that day or sell anything that would give the public the impression that State Patty’s Day is a community celebration, whether it be merchandise, apparel or drink specials.

The letter ended with a plea to the merchants to join with the university in putting an end to the annual event.

Meanwhile, State College police and university police plan to get help in the form of extra officers from Bellefonte and Ferguson, Patton and Spring township police departments.

The Centre County Alcohol Task Force said it also will have numerous officers on patrol, in conjunction with State College police, and says it will take a zero-tolerance approach to alcohol and drug-related crimes.

State College Police Chief Thomas King said that last year saw the highest number of criminal activity reports of any State Patty’s Day, or of any other weekend that year. “Hopefully, with increased personnel, we can have a more controlled situation,” King said.

“I won’t go into numbers, but we’re treating it like any other home football game or arts fest,” said State College Capt. John Gardner.

The state Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, borough residents and campus volunteers also have been enlisted to watch for drunk and disorderly conduct. State College police asked that community members and volunteers be safe, sober, visible and alert during the weekend to promote safety effectively.

From the perspective of some merchants, however, the negative view of State Patty’s Day in the community and at the university has had little effect on their customers.

T-shirt sales at People’s Nation and The Family Clothesline, both downtown merchants, are similar to those of last year, according to representatives of both stores.

The Family Clothesline received a letter from Jody Alessandrine, executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District, asking them to “not promote a fake holiday,” store coordinator Tracy Bell said.

The store is carrying shirts with State Patty’s printed on them. It considers the day an event similar to a game day or holiday, and selling the shirts is not an endorsement, Bell said. “We provide shirts for every occasion.”

Bell stated The Family Clothesline’s view: “We do not condone excessive drinking. But with that said, we can’t control what people do in our merchandise.” Some of those making money on State Patty’s Day have been students and non-students who have designed and are selling T-shirts for the event. Rachel Yamin, a Penn State junior, and Brett Kazatsky, a Bloomsburg University student, sold more than 2,000 T-shirts through a Facebook event by Jan 13. Both Yamin and Kazatsky declined to comment on their final sales figures.

For bar owners, decisions on what to do on State Patty’s Day are not easily made.

Chris Rosengrant, owner of the Lion’s Den, took a hard stance last year when he shut down operations completely on State Patty’s Day. He said he will do it again this year.

“This day is an eyesore for Penn State and for State College,” he said. “It has lost its purpose.”

He wasn’t alone last year — the Shandygaff also closed — and he said he won’t be surprised if several other bars take the same step this year.

“In my estimation, you’re probably going to see a lot more bars closed (this year). It has been very public that there is going to be heavy enforcement of liquor laws in State College,” Rosengrant said. Enforcement last year translated into the citation of nine bars and 241 people during the day.

Of the 241 cited, just 91 were identified as Penn State students. Rosengrant said a large number of “out-of-towners” were a major contributor to the increased alcohol-related crime that day.

Last year, the State College Tavern Association encouraged bars to offer no specials and operate on normal hours despite the “holiday.” It is not known what its message is this year.

Jennifer Zangrilli, president of the association, could not be reached for comment despite a number of attempts over several weeks. Kildare’s announced that it will not be offering any drink specials and will have a mandatory cover charge.

In his Sept. 17 alcohol initiatives report to the Penn State trustees, Sims also listed the idea of encouraging faculty to create “academic expectations for students on Friday and the succeeding Monday” around State Patty’s Day to help mitigate problems.

Whether that idea has gained any traction on campus has been hard to gauge.

Some students said they plan to participate in the day whether professors schedule an exam or assignment before State Patty’s Day or not.

Laura Davis, a Penn State sophomore said, “My assignments and exam schedule don’t normally change my weekend plans, so it is no different than with State Patty’s Day. I have an exam the following Monday, but it won’t affect whether or not I participate in the holiday.”

Among faculty, several said they were unaware of the date of State Patty’s Day when they created their syllabus or felt scheduling an exam or assignment before or after the weekend would cause more problems.

“Some students come to class intoxicated, which is not good for the educational climate and bothers students who are interested in learning,” said Andrew Peck, senior lecturer and assistant director of psychology undergraduate studies.

“I don’t think anyone believes that faculty should have the power to constrain a student’s freedom outside of the class environment,” Peck said. “As educators, I believe our job is to teach students about our areas of expertise.”

For Rosengrant, what he saw on the streets last year convinced him that his decision to close was correct.

“How do you explain to your kid why the 20-year-old college student is puking in the middle of the sidewalk at 11 a.m.? That experience convinced me that I made the right move in closing,” he said.

The lure of money — “tens of thousands,” in Rosengrant’s words — is tempting, he said, but the risk is too high for the reward.

Joshua Ballard, Wildamie Ceus, Katie Moffitt and Anita Oh are Penn State journalism students.