Will Webster’s Cafe Ever Return?
In the summer of 2010, downtown State College lost an intimate, beloved, community establishment. When Webster’s Bookstore Cafe was forced to close its doors in downtown State College, a comfortable place to spend evenings on Allen Street was lost. Those of you who were here before Webster’s closed its doors remember the quaint coffee shop bustling with young intellectuals and conversations.
Growing up in State College, I knew Webster’s as the place where people organized and gathered after school. Anyone looking for a place to work on a research paper, browse used books, or enjoy a cup of coffee, could guarantee success at Webster’s.
How could a seemingly thriving downtown establishment suddenly collapse from financial woes and subsequent closing? Despite petitions to keep the doors open, it was clear that the business would be forced to close. Clearly all was not well at Webster’s. There existed a facade of an apparently successful business–the constant influx of customers who often arrived for meetings, conversations, or book browsing, many of whom didn’t pay more than a few dollars if at all. In addition to the rows of used books, there were racks of records for sale. Part of the appeal of Webster’s was the friendly, open environment where browsing and group meetings were welcome, free of charge. There was everything that a young college student could want, and it was suddenly taken away from us.
Rarely has a store closing evoked sentiments of anger and frustration from so many, myself included. At the time of Webster’s closing, there were many theories. Was it political motivation, poor finances (as indicated by store owner Elaine Meder-Wilgus), or potential for a more successful business to take its place in its the location? Let’s take a look at what could have caused a bustling business to suddenly close:
Not only was Webster’s a coffee shop, but it also served as a hub for local political organizations. Was there a rift between Webster’s and the property’s owners over frequent political activities on location? Were poor finances solely to blame? As mentioned earlier, many customers (myself included) used Webster’s for organizing and hanging out, without necessarily buying anything. This non-paying practice coupled with a struggling economy must have put a dent in income. The final possible cause (and perhaps the most infuriating), namely that the space was needed for new businesses has clearly been unfounded, as no business has yet taken over this prime location on Allen Street. It is difficult to imagine how a vacant property could be more profitable than Webster’s. I imagine that all three causes played a major role in the demise of Webster’s, which I suspect was less sudden than everyone thought.
Nothing has quite replaced Webster’s in State College. Similar establishments such as the The Cheese Shoppe and Saint’s Café, while excellent coffee shops in their own right, have likely absorbed some cafe business, perhaps failed to replace the atmosphere that was quintessentially Webster’s– a place where you could sit and read all day without fearing eviction. Not only was Webster’s a cafe, but it attained almost epic status from locals and students who ardently appealed to keep the cafe alive, as evidenced by three community gatherings held in support of the cafe. Additionally, a volunteer group was organized in support of Webster’s.
There have been whispers around town for months of a potential Webster’s reopening. If Webster’s should return, you can be assured that I will be at the front of the line to enter the store along with hosts of passionate, disenfranchised clientele who reminisce over the “good old days” at Webster’s. Webster’s was more than just a cafe in downtown State College, and its absence continues to be felt.
In the comments section share your fond memories of Webster’s..