Ballons over Happy Valley Ballons over Happy Valley

The following are just a few of our wonderful independent businesses here in Happy Valley and I’ve included my personal story on each place here. There are many more locally owned goods and sevices around the area as well, and I encourage you to visit and support them all.



Appalachian Outdoors

Locally Owned By: Geoff Brugler
Goods or Service: Outdoor Apparel & Equipment
Hours: Mon. – Thr. 9:30am to 8:30pm, Fri. till 9pm, Sat. 9am to 8pm, Sun. 10am to 6pm
Location: 123 S. Allen St.
Contact Info: 814-234-3000 or 800-690-5220
Supports Local Manufactures or Suppliers: Yes

The owner of this place is about as outdoorsy as you get. When Geoff Brugler came to Penn State in 1974 there was no store downtown for camping gear, outdoor sports, or clothing. He single-handedly turned a geeky intellectual town into an outdoorsy, free-spirited town. His original store was called Appalachian Outdoor House, but when he shifted locations, he decided to make a name shift as well. Now it’s simply Appalachian Outdoors, and it is the place for all your outdoor needs. From clothing to climbing gear, Geoff has it all. And, what makes his place sooo much better than the chain stores is his staff.

Geoff: Back row, green shirt

App House (its nickname) has probably the most knowledgeable staff of any store I’ve ever been in. I think Geoff requires them to take classes to learn every product and how every product is used, and what would work best for the customer according to their needs. Staffers like Jen, George, Jean-Luc, Mike and many others greet you at the door and are at the ready to answer any question or guide you in any way without being pushy or in your way. The store is literally packed with goods, so it’s wise to take advantage of the help – even if it’s as a guide to get you where you need to go in the store.

Looking for a certain brand? Well, if you can’t find it at App House, it probably doesn’t exist. Seriously, at last count I saw nearly 200 brands. As I wrote, the store is packed – it’s a bit hard to get around in a way, but you’ll have fun and you’ll find something you just can’t leave or live without.

App House also does cool stuff like Free University. It was adapted from the Free U classes at PSU back in the 70s. They were free and taught by locals, teachers, and students – on and off campus. App House does them two times a month on the first and third Thursdays. My pal and fellow artist Jennifer Kane did one on Painting in Yellowstone & the Sierras. Matt Dallos, an employee, did a Photography class. Other employees have done Ice Climbing, Biking Here & Abroad, and Geoff himself did Local Cross Country Skiing. A future Free U might be on Search and Rescue – how to NOT get lost in the woods! They also do movies – local, national and international. They recently co-sponsored the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Maybe I can get them to do a class on Adventure Eating & Drinking. Sounds fun!

Geoff and I have become friends over the years and he has supported my art and my book. Heck, even though he wasn’t in my first book, he offered to sell it at the store and on his website. He’s an avid supporter of local business and even treats us locals with an added special touch.

Geoff lives and breathes the outdoors. I often see him hiking, cross country skiing, running, and mountain biking around our beautiful back country. If he’s not doing his thing around central PA, he’s mountaineering in South America, or ice climbing in the Alps. The other day he was on his way to climb with a group of friends somewhere in Europe but the Iceland volcano kept him grounded. So instead he strapped-on a backpack full of weights and hiked Spruce Gap trail in our Rothrock State Forest just to stay in shape for the next opportunity.

It looks like Geoff is doing it right. Now, 36 years later, the store is bigger and busier than ever. Even our local version of the outdoor chain gang doesn’t seem to have an effect on App House. Between students and community folks who believe in, and support Geoff, the store doesn’t seem affected at all. There’s nothing “chain” about this place, just quality outdoor clothing, gear, and exceptional people and service. I love it!

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Ace Hardware

Locally Owned By: Grant H Rosenberger & James L Rosenberger
Goods or Service: Hardware & More
Hours: Mon – Fri 7 to 8, Sat 8 to 8, Sun 10 to 5
Location: 150 Rolling Ridge Drive, State College, PA 16801 (Hills Plaza next to Weis Market)
Contact Info: 814-237-3333 [email protected]
Supports Local Manufactures or Suppliers: Yes

Now hold on a minute. I know what you’re thinking, Ace Hardware is a chain. Well, it is, sort of, but it’s more a locally-owned link that’s doing its best to go local! Ace stores are all owned and operated by individuals, or in this case a father and son team. It’s tricky, but as you read on you’ll get it, and you should, because this store is where you should be shopping for anything hardware, housewares, small appliances, electrical, plumbing, paint, lawn & garden, tools, power tools, seasonal items, and… let’s just say, pretty much everything those nasty box stores have, but with the personal, neighborly connection, and understanding that only a locally owned place can offer.

I asked Grant, the co-owner of this Ace store, how he felt about the demise of all the local hardware stores State College once had. “It was a real loss to the community” Grant said. However, it did play a part when he was trying to decide what type of business he wanted to start. With their closing he realized that there was now a big niche missing in State College.

Grant took a desire to have his own business and melded it into a desire to move back home from Philly and fill that hole left by places like O.W. Houts and the old Centre Hardware in town. Joining Ace began with a short application then a meeting with a Market Development Manager who drove to State College to look at possible sites with him and his dad. This gave them a chance to really to get to know Ace corporately and for Ace to get to know them. But Ace also wanted to make sure they had the character and drive, not just the desire. And let me tell you, go into their store, and you see that corporate has nothing to worry about.

So what exactly is this Ace Hardware? Is it a franchise? Independent? Well according to Grant it’s sort of autonomous because they’re not a franchise and not really independent either. Ace is set up as a cooperative. This means that every individual or group of individuals who owns an Ace Hardware store owns stock in Ace Corporation. You can only hold stock in Ace if you own a store, and it’s not publicly traded. Simply, the restrictions placed on Grant are only around the use of the word "Ace." Also he can’t buy supplies from competitors like Do It Best or True Value. Ace does however encourage him to get some stuff locally and to get things that they don't provide. How cool is that?!

Something else that’s cool is they carry some environmentally friendly products and hope to be a resource for that in the area. They all ready carry Mythic Paint which is completely VOC free, which means there are no toxins in it. Not only is the paint VOC free, but the colorant in it is also VOC free.

Bottom line, Grant, dad, and crew are able to give people helpful and efficient service. Customers can park close to the door (they also have a bike rack right outside!) and their store has more of a human scale to it. This allows them to be more available to customers who need help finding what they are looking for, or direction on what they might need for their projects. Since they’re locally owned and operated, they have a stake in the community. They all have real motivation to provide great service to their customers which is hard to find these days. And get this, they have access to 60,000 products via Ace, which is actually more than what the big boxes offer.

And on that note, I must tell you of my favorite part of Grant’s store – the nut and bolt section! Their nuts and bolts are WAY bigger (haha!) than the competition – Houts included. I’m serious though, I have never seen such a selection. And, you aren’t forced to buy a bubble-pack of a set amount – if you need one bolt, one washer, and one nut, totaling 34 cents, that’s totally cool. They even have a full line (and I mean really hard to find stuff) of metric! My Spanish-made Montesa trials bike is thrilled.

So far our locally owned Ace is off to a great start, and it seems the community is really backing them. But it takes time to change people's shopping habits and to let them know there’s a great locally owned store where they can buy pretty much everything they need and not a bunch of crap they don’t need. Ok folks, let’s show Ace Corporate that Grant, dad, and the crew are here to stay! And let’s show the chain gang that this is one link breaking away and going local.

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Hull’s Floor Covering

Locally Owned By: Merle “Hap” & Pat Hull
Goods or Service: Floor Coverings, Installation, and Floor Care Products
Hours: Mon. – Fri. 8am to 4:30pm, Sat. 9am to 12pm
Location: 240 E. Hamilton Ave. (Hamilton Avenue Shopping Center)
Contact Info: 814-238-7187
Supports Local Manufactures or Suppliers: No

Note: Even if this wasn’t my folks’ place, I’d be compelled to write about it anyway. Because if they can be successful for over forty years in business they must be doing something right, if not doing it the best. But the fact that I’m hoping for new carpet in my cabin doesn’t hurt either. :^)

It’s kinda rare to find a husband and wife in business together, let alone one that has lasted 40 + years with a marriage of 60 years behind that, and still going strong. With the greatest of love, respect, and admiration, I would like to introduce to you Hap & Pat Hull and their passion – Hull’s Floor Covering.

It all started in 1952 when my dad took a job with Porter Brothers as a floor covering installer. When he decided to leave Porters, he started a partnership called Roland & Hull and opened their store downtown in 1962. As it goes sometimes, the partnership didn’t work out, and dad went out on his own. He left behind his truck and tools but not his pride or customer loyalty. As soon as the word got out that my dad was back in business, the customers flocked in. But instead of Mr. Roland’s sons to greet them and help them through their choices of floor covering options, they met my mom.

Up until then my mom had many part-time jobs from a retail store employee to the Ice Cream Lady at the high school. She knew nothing of the floor biz but she loved my dad and knew that he needed a “face” and clerk for the retail store (nowadays she would be referred to as a “floor covering decision consultant.” You see, my dad’s true gift is in his hands. Yeah, he’s amazing with people (ask anyone he’s ever met), but give him a floor or wall to cover and he’s an artist. What? You think “artist” is going too far? If you ever get the chance to see one of my dad’s amazing hand crafted ceramic tile jobs around central PA, you will agree – he’s a true artist.

So with my dad out on the job every day, my mom took care of customers coming in and needing help. My mom’s no slacker so it didn’t take her long to become an expert and have a great rapport with the customers. Both my mom and dad know the importance and value of a customer. My mom’s sweet personality and knowledge of floors became my dad’s ace-in-the-hole to keep him busy and their customers happy.

She has no computer, but keeps paper files on each and every customer. She knows the inventory inside and out, and everybody loves her – from the neighbors in their shopping center and the sales people and suppliers, to the truck drivers who make the deliveries. My mom is just one of those people you can’t help but like and respect. To this day, and now at the age of 78, she’s at the store with my dad every day at 7:30am then goes home and cooks him dinner – she even packs my dad’s lunch every morning – she’s been doing that since they were married in 1950. Wow!

My dad, who turned 80 in September 2010, is still on the job every day! Granted, by now his knees are shot so he can’t do much of the work, but he oversees every job and drives his guys crazy with his artistic perfection. Gary Phillips and Louie McCarty are my dad’s two right-hand-men. Both are as strong as oxen and both really respect my dad and share his passion for perfection. They have learned well and have a trade that will serve them for a long time to come.

I know it’s hard on my dad not be able to do the actual work, but you know what? It’s about time he retires anyway. However, the problem with my mom and dad retiring is they know nothing else but what they love, and what they love is what they do. They are the last of what I feel is a dying breed – those men and women who care more about customer satisfaction, providing quality work and products, than their own fortunes and pleasures. It makes sense really. Those things are what gives them pleasure. For my mom and dad, work is pleasure, and pleasure is work.

Try and find that philosophy at the chain stores my friends. Good Luck.

Please Support!


Nature’s Pantry

Locally Owned By: Michele Briggs
Goods or Service: Natural Foods & Local and Regional Products
Hours: Mon., Wed., Fri. 10am to 6pm, Tue. & Thr. 10am to 8pm, Sat. 10am to 4pm.
Location: 2331 Commercial Boulevard (near College Gardens Nursery and Celebration Hall)
Contact Info: 814-861-5200 [email protected]
Supports Local Manufactures or Suppliers: Yes

This place is like an O. W. Houts for hippies. Kidding (sort of), actually it’s more like a holistic version of O.W. Houts. For you unfortunate ones who never got a chance to go to Houts before the chains killed it, it was a place where you could find just about everything. Well my friends, Nature’s Pantry is not only a “just about everything” place (they even offer ergonomic snow shovels in winter), but it’s natural, holistic, funky, earth friendly, and people friendly! You conservative types need not be scared – just because its’ “natural” doesn’t mean it’s psychedelic or something. Owner Michele Briggs is, however, kinda like a hippie though – she digs nature, sells natural products, has a bunch of kids, and lives in the country with her husband with “an assortment of dogs, cats, sheep, goats, and horses” as she states on her website. At the store she has a play pen for the kiddos and her parents frequently help out. She’s super nice, very informed about what she carries, and is easy to talk with.

Her store is really cool. When you walk in you’ll most likely say “Wow!” because the place is huge and full of all kinds of cool and interesting things. Seriously, I was in there one day with a friend and saw what looked like hollow tapered candles that were made of wax-soaked fabric wrapped to form a long pointed tube. My friend who was with me said it was an ear candle. What, an ear candle? I said with a stink-eye. She said “It’s called ear candling, you lie down on your side, stick it in your ear, light it, and let the hot wax drip into your ear canal and melt-out the earwax.” That is NOT what you do, and thank God I didn’t do that! But what I did do was bad enough.

Note: I should probably rein myself in at this point and get back to the facts of Nature’s Pantry, but this story is just too funny to not share.

I confess here and now that I have a slight earwax problem in my right ear (maybe both). I don’t really like the modern way of removing it which is by drops and then flushing my ear with warm water, so an ear candle that is said to be holistic seemed a good alternative – or at least fun to try. So when I got home from Natures Pantry I immediately ascended to my lofted bathroom to try it out.

I grabbed a pack of matches and stood in front of a mirror to see what I was doing. After pre lighting the match, I jammed the waxy tube so far into my ear that I thought I poked my brain. Thinking it was going to “just kinda glow” and burn without really much of a flame, I didn’t think to open any windows or plan an escape route. As soon as I held the match to the candle, it was like lighting a small kerosene-soaked torch! The flame rose about 6 inches and dense smoke rose right along with it!

There I was holding a flaming tube in my ear and black soot was filling the loft (I am not kidding). Why I didn’t just take the candle out of my ear and extinguish it, I’ll never know. But instead, holding it in my ear, I ran to the French doors of my loft to open them, but they wouldn’t open! So I ran to the other end of the loft and unlocked and pulled down a window there. I stood by the open window holding a flaming candle to my ear praying that someone wouldn’t come by and see me.

I stood there until I felt a warm sensation on my fingers and realized the flame was now only inches from my head! I ran back to the mirror to see my hair starting to singe so I took the candle out of my ear the dowsed it with water. Between the smell of burnt hair and water dowsed fire, I felt a little queasy.

Apparently I didn’t listen well to Michele and her instructions, because not only is there still wax in my ear, but the hair on the right side of my head still looks funny and I’m still cleaning soot off things.

That was the first and last time I will ever be doing any “ear candling.” True Story.

Anyway, back to the point. Nature’s Pantry is the kind of place where you can find many things that are not only good for you, but enrich your life and bring you back to the way things used to be. Michele, her staff, and her parents are always ready to help you out whether it’s your health, pleasure, passion, or just needing a “fun” and “different” way to remove earwax. It’s a place where hippie chick meets soccer mom, dude meets dad, and where “home grown” means right from the farm and not something you smoke.

Their new store is amazing and has more of everything - more parking, more space, more freezers, coolers, and more selection! The new place is near the Nittany Mall on Commercial Boulevard behind College Garden Nursery (look for the sign along Rt. 26). From soap to shovels and essential oils to dried veggie chips, Nature’s Pantry has everything in the Whole-istic World!

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The Stevens Motel

Locally Owned By: Jeff & Randa Harman
Goods or Service: Accommodations
Hours: 24/7
Location: 1275 N. Atherton St.
Contact Info: 814-238-2438
Supports Local Manufactures or Suppliers: Yes

This might very well be the last of the old school motor inns left in the world. Well, that’s a stretch, but in this day and age of chain hotels and motels, it’s certainly rare to find a place such as this. The Stevens Motel is truly a mom and pop locally owned and operated place to lay your tired head without tiring your wallet. It’s also one of the cleanest and well maintained places to stay. And you can’t get much better customer service than owners Jeff and Randa Harman or resident manager Ken Wisor.

That’s because Jeff was raised at the motel form a little kid and is now a second generation owner. So, this is not just his living, but a major part of his life. Randa came in after they got married in 1983 and in 1990 Jeff took over ownership. Living at a motel as a kid is one thing, living there as a family is another. Jeff’s mom and dad did it with 4 kids. They probably had no choice at the time with such an investment, but the motel was built to accommodate a resident family anyway so they took advantage of it. I bet it had to have been tough. Jeff and Randa lived there and raised their daughter Ashley there.

However, living and working under the same roof can be challenging – you literally can’t escape it and have no real down time. Plus imagine your front door being open to guests 24/7. They had to be able to get up in the middle of the night and get someone a room or help out a guest in need. I know if I had to do that night after night I would get pretty grumpy. But Jeff’s got this hospitality thing in his blood and he’s good at it and didn’t mind it at all.

Nevertheless, with a wife and child, you gotta make decisions based on all parties, and Randa wasn’t that keen on a 24/7 open door policy (can you blame her?). And since there are people out there who make great resident managers, it seemed like a good move to find a home outside the motel. So in 1992 Jeff moved out of the motel after living there for 28 years. Since then, they’ve had a number of resident managers, but in 2002 they found the best one yet.

Ken is the current, and I imagine the permanent, resident manager of The Stevens Motel. He’s great! Jeff still comes in everyday and they trade weekends. Ken has the days off and is responsible for evenings and overnight. Randa still helps out as much as she can, but also works at our local hospital. It’s definitely a family operation and close-knit as well. The housekeepers are handpicked by Jeff and Randy, and everyone, including Ashley, helps out of busy weekends like Penn State Football and graduation.

The rates here are affordable and they have regular customers that come back whenever they’re in town. One time I met a couple at a local coffee shop who were travelers. When I recommended they stay at The Stevens, they told me they were already staying there, and that’s the only place they stay when they’re in the area. They love it there and couldn’t say enough about it.

They offer 18 rooms total with 13 of those non smoking. The rooms are nicely decorated and offer all the amenities of the chain places. With 12 of the rooms, you can pull right up to the door. On the second floor there are six rooms including two larger family rooms. In the summer baskets of colorful flowers are hanging from everywhere, and as it’s been since the 60s, the grand sign above the place and the smaller one by the road greet you with daises.

So if you ever need a quality place to stay, or have friends who need the same, or perhaps a relative, this is the place. Or let’s say said relative wants to stay with you and you’re not too keen on that. Book them in at Jeff and Randa’s place! They will be so delighted they won’t mind a bit – especially if you pay!

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