Over the past two years, Snow Shoe has lost its grocery store, pharmacy, medical clinic and bank.
Business Matters: Reshaping communities
How is Center County growing, and how does the approach to growth affect families, businesses and visitors? The answer is different depending on where you look — from downtown State College’s ever-evolving landscape to Bellefonte’s small business boom and Snow Shoe’s struggles after business loss. The Center Daily Times’ annual Business Matters section explores growth and development throughout the county.
First, the fire burned down the town’s only grocery store, hardware store and Subway.
The pharmacy was next to close its doors, and then the area’s only medical clinic.
Just when they thought there wasn’t more to lose, the last brick-and-mortar bank shut down.
Velda Mann, a 56-year resident of Snow Shoe, was devastated. After a fall in March 2021 left her mostly housebound, she had been relying on neighbors and friends to bring her groceries and ferry her to doctors’ appointments.
The 91-year-old widow remembered the days when Snow Shoe’s only doctor made house calls. But later in life, she had come to depend on the Mountaintop Area Medical Center and the Moshannon Valley Pharmacy for regular primary care visits, bloodwork and routine prescriptions. Now, the town where she spent most of her life was disappearing.
“I’ve seen when the old doctor was here and he helped get us the medical center. The people of the town all helped and everything. It has been so, so devastating since they have gone,” Mann said. “The same thing with our pharmacy and then the bank, and it leaves nothing here for especially elderly people. And so it’s very hard to deal with.”
Searching for replacements, solutions
Mann used to make trips to Hall’s Market at least once a week, she says, to get groceries and chat with locals. She had a friend who worked in the adjoining True Value hardware store who she would go to for house repairs, like fixing a spigot. But all that is gone now since an electrical fire in February 2020 displaced Hall’s, the hardware store, Subway and Jersey Shore State Bank, and eventually shuttered the first three. JSSB reopened its Snow Shoe branch shortly after the fire, but bank leadership quietly closed the location Jan. 18 after opening a Bellefonte branch in May 2021.
“We want a grocery store and a hardware store ’cause we miss them both. But we’ve contacted people, but no grocery store seems interested in coming to our area,” said Snow Shoe Township Supervisor Rod Preslovich.
Preslovich and fellow township Supervisor John Yecina said they’ve heard countless pleas from residents to reinstate a grocery store, hardware store and a medical clinic. The closure of the medical center was “shocking” and caught supervisors completely off guard, they said. They, along with Supervisor Ron Bucha, Snow Shoe Borough Mayor Bill Dudish and board members of the medical center, met with Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman in the fall about getting a medical clinic in Snow Shoe to replace the center run through Keystone Rural Health Consortia that closed. So far, nothing concrete has come of it, though they said Corman made some calls on their behalf.
“On the medical center issue, Senator Corman has met personally with different health systems and local stakeholders over the past several months to determine if another entity could step in and reopen the facility,” said Corman’s communications director, Jason Thompson, in an email. Corman’s staff met with one health system to discuss the possibility of taking over the Mountaintop space the week of Feb. 1, he added. Additionally, Corman, R-Benner Township, said he is willing to “help identify and support state funding options to facilitate re-opening so the health care needs of the community are met,” according to Thompson.
Yecina said the Dollar General, which is managed by resident Karen Young, has been a “lifeline” for the community since the loss of the grocery and hardware stores. “If we didn’t have that, I don’t know what we’d have,” he said. Other residents are glad to have Dollar General, but say it doesn’t replace the grocery store because it doesn’t offer fresh produce or meat.
“On the grocery store issue, the Senator stands ready to work with local leaders to lend a hand with any ideas they bring to him,” Thompson said.
Supervisors also met with an aid of state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-McElhattan, to ask for help in getting another grocery store to replace Hall’s, but Preslovich said they never received any response or follow-up from her office after that. Borowicz’s office did not respond to requests for comment by phone or email.
The township was also blindsided by the closure of JSSB. Supervisors found out by word-of-mouth from bank customers who had received paper notifications. Center County commissioners tried to assist the supervisors in keeping the bank open, Preslovich said, but leadership said they closed the location due to lack of business.
“Our population, we’re not growing, and it’s hurting us, you know?” he said.
‘Good neighbors’ key to community’s survival
Cheyenne Thompson remembers bursting into tears the moment she found out Hall’s had burned.
The 25-year-old Snow Shoe resident worked at the grocery store on-and-off for five years, first for spending money in high school, and then to put herself through undergraduate studies at Lock Haven University while pregnant with her daughter. Hall’s was a family affair, too: Thompson’s aunt Martha had worked there for 30 years, retiring before the fire.
After the fire, Thompson said, townspeople said they were going to get their mops and buckets to clean Hall’s up. Everyone wanted the grocery store to reopen, she said, but in April 2020 Hall’s owners announced they would not rebuild the market due to high costs.
“Hall’s was such a staple in our community and when it was gone you didn’t realize how much you relied on it,” Thompson said.
Like Mann, Thompson says Hall’s wasn’t just a grocery store. “It was a place for everybody to see each other.” She would trade gossip with the elderly women who came in to shop and catch up on the community’s daily happenings.
“Without Hall’s, I do not see half the people I used to see. It’s rare that we see each other now,” she said.
Thompson, who is married with a 4-year-old daughter, now plans out the week’s worth of groceries with her husband so she can pick them up from the Weis in Bellefonte on her commute home from her job at The Meadows in Center Hall. Her 71-year-old grandmother, who has limited mobility, now relies on Thompson’s aunt to drive her the 17 miles to Bellefonte for groceries.
Even after the loss of the only grocery store, the hits kept coming. Moshannon Valley Pharmacy closed its Snow Shoe location in June 2020, and a little over a year later, Mountaintop Area Medical Center in Snow Shoe announced it would close its doors in August 2021.
Mann, who saw a primary care nurse practitioner at the medical center, said she’s had to call around to other health centers within a 50-60 mile radius to see if they will accept her insurance. All the specialists she sees are located nearly a 30-mile drive away in State College.
She acknowledges that the willingness of her neighbors to drive her to appointments and bring her groceries puts her in a better position than other elderly people who must hire a driver or rely on the county van for seniors to transport them. “It would be very hard for me to live here if I didn’t have good neighbors,” she said.
For Olivia Sager, a 24-year-old mother of two living in Clarence, the first year after Hall’s closed presented unforeseen challenges for her family. Because the Dollar General in Snow Shoe does not offer formula, Sager found herself driving “the whole way down the mountain” to get formula at Sam’s Club in State College for her youngest child, who was a baby at the time.
Sager, who works nights as a nurse at Mount Nittany Medical Center while taking classes toward a degree, said she misses the convenience of being able to run to the store during the day for last-minute things. Now she, like Thompson, does her grocery shopping twice a month at the Weis in Bellefonte on her way home from work.
After watching one business after another leave the area, Sager felt the pull to leave Snow Shoe herself. But her husband, who grew up in Snow Shoe and plans to live in the area for the rest of his life, convinced her to stay. She’s happy with the education her older son is receiving in the Bald Eagle Area School District, and says she would want to stay in the district even if they moved off the mountain.
Thompson, too, has thought about leaving Snow Shoe. After a brief stint at Duquesne University outside Pittsburgh, she moved back to the area and resolved to raise her family on the mountain, where she and her husband have now built a house. But the slow march of business away from Snow Shoe, and the area’s relative isolation, sometimes make her question the decision to stay.
“Part of the reason why I wanted to live in Snow Shoe so bad — when my mom was here and my grandma — was free child care. Now, all my aunts and uncles live here too. If it wasn’t for them, I probably, most likely, would not have stayed in Snow Shoe,” Thompson said. “It has its challenges and there are days when I’m like, ‘Damn, I wish I lived closer to work.’ (But) I wouldn’t change it.”
Thompson has another reason for wanting to stay. Her mother, Angel Smolko, died unexpectedly in November 2021, something that has been “overwhelming with grief.” But even more overwhelming was finding out how much everyone in the community cared for her as they offered money toward funeral costs, cooked dinners, dropped off supplies, helped organize the memorial service, and sent love and support, she said.
“When my mother passed, there were so many people that reached out. It’s a community,” Thompson said. “When you need them and when they need you, everybody’s there for each other.”
Thompson, who grew up traversing back roads and wearing camo, realized she wasn’t cut out for city life after college. But now she knows that Snow Shoe — with its small-town character and family roots — is the place she wants her 4-year-old daughter Briar to grow up.