Owners of the Skeller announced late Monday afternoon the iconic bar and adjacent restaurant Spats Café will soon close due to owners of the building, the Herlochers, not renewing their lease. Thousands of Penn Staters were immediately up in arms, starting a campaign to #SaveTheSkeller on Twitter, signing a petition, and leaving one-star reviews on the Facebook and Amazon pages of the family’s famous dipping mustard, pledging to boycott the company.
Reactions from the Penn State community have been strong, so it’s worth taking a step back to realize we don’t have all the facts yet. Here’s what we know so far, what’s disputed, and what we’re still trying to figure out:
The Lease Agreement
The biggest dispute between accounts from the owners of the Skeller and Spats — Duke and Monica Gastinger — and the Herlochers is over what exactly happened with the lease agreement. Basically, each party says they were ignored by the other party.
The Gastigers told the Centre Daily Times the property was leased to another (still unknown) tenant before the Herlochers told them their lease would not be renewed. They also said they were ignored when they asked the Herlochers for time to sell the business to new owners who could negotiate a new lease.
Neil Herlocher told the Centre Daily Times the Gastigers were given four months notice and that they were informed of the decision after a new tenant had signed a lease.
“When we took over the property we became aware that the operators of the All American Rathskeller and Spats had been operating without a lease since 2011 and paying well below market rates,” the Herlochers said in a statement. “Attempts to resolve the issue were unsuccessful. Our offer to purchase the businesses were also turned down.”
It seems unlikely established businesspeople like the Herlochers would purchase real estate without going through the due diligence of learning about the lease agreements, especially for the largest tenant of the building. The family bought the buildings for more than $6.5 million in June.
We have very little information so far on the new tenants of the Skeller and Spats location, other than the fact that they plan to operate a restaurant and bar but don’t yet want to be identified.
“The new tenants will be the latest in a long line of owners who have maintained the proud tradition of good times and good friends meeting in this downtown State College landmark,” the statement from the Herlochers says. “Look for announcements soon from the new operators with their vision for this location.”
Are the new owners local businesspeople or will they operate a national chain-type bar and restaurant? Will The Skeller still be called The Skeller? Will the atmosphere be the same, just with a new name? Or will it be totally different, moonlighting as a time-honored tradition?
“It has been a great honor operating these two iconic establishments and serving this community and its many truly wonderful patrons and friends,” Duke Gastiger told the Centre Daily Times in a statement. “We are grateful for the loyalty that people — including our incredible employees — have shown us over the years. We most regret closing with such short notice, but it was unavoidable given the timeline dictated by the new property owners.”
The destiny of the Skeller’s and Spats’ current employees remains somewhat disputed. The Gastingers told the Centre Daily Times more than 60 people would lose their jobs with the closure. However, a statement from the Herlochers alerted current employees of the Skeller “that the new operators are also interested in retaining staff.”
Actual Closing Date
The Gastingers told the Centre Daily Times no closing date for The Skeller has been determined yet. The Herlochers told the paper the lease runs through February 28, 2018.
The Herlochers have not yet responded to a request for further comment. We’ll continue to cover the development of this story as more information becomes available.