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Penn State sanctions: Business community to meet this week

State College resident and local business owner Christian Pfeifer has lived in the area for seven years. He doesn’t know if he’ll make it to his 10th anniversary.

Pfeifer, owner of Skate Penn, said he thinks his business can survive, but decreased foot traffic on football weekends would make it harder. He added that it’s pretty telling that he sells more skateboarding merchandise during football season in the winter than he does in the summer when it’s warm and more people are out skateboarding.

“I get an influx of people from football,” he said. “If my store wasn’t full (on football weekends) it would be a struggle.”

Penn State’s football program was hit with major NCAA sanctions Monday, including a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, a loss of scholarships and vacating 112 wins. The news left business owners and leaders pondering the economic impact to the region.

Pfeifer called the penalties “a little steep,” but he hopes the town can move forward and the community can come together.

Downtown Improvement District Executive Director George Arnold said the town can and will band together. He hopes it can become even stronger.

Penn State football is not the only reason people come to the Centre Region, Arnold said, noting there are many other draws, including concerts, outdoor sports, shows and Penn State’s reputation as a leading research institution.

“With adversity comes opportunity,” he said.

Arnold added that this is not the “death penalty,” and the negative consequences associated with these sanctions will not affect the local economy as much as the absence of football would.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson said Monday he took the community’s concerns, including local business owners, into consideration before making the decision to accept the NCAA’s ruling. The NCAA told Penn State that if it did not accept the ruling, it would face the death penalty, plus other sanctions.

“I've heard from a few people over the course of the past week now that the death penalty would be very, very tough on central Pennsylvania. No question about that,” he said.

Interim Athletic Director David Joyner also said he was contacted by many Centre County business owners about the problems associated with the football team not having a season.

“A number of merchants reached out to us,” Joyner said. “And they were very, very panicked about the opportunity for the death penalty.”

Though many businesses would feel the sting of potential loss of football weekend traffic, 2000 Degrees owner Gary Filkens said he may be the only merchant in State College whose business would improve from the “death penalty.”

Filkens said the increased number of pedestrians downtown hurts his sales because regular customers want to avoid the area. But he said the overall economy and local residents will certainly be impacted.

“It does affect people emotionally to have their town dragged through the mud,” he said.

In the wake of the sanctions, Vern Squier, president of the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County, said the most important thing is for the business community to move on and try to mitigate losses as much as possible.

He said one way to do that would be for businesses to become less reliant on the university. Squier said Penn State and local businesses will be proud partners going forward, but companies need to learn to be more independent.

“It’s really a time to rally the troops and show the strength in our community,” he said.

CBICC will be hosting a member/community meeting on Thursday to discuss future solutions for businesses in the county.

Also looking ahead, the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau will take part in an informal discussion with a few invited local business leaders today. Executive Director Betsey Howell said the topic will be the “next steps” forward for businesses facing possible economic repercussions.

“I think the community will need to remember as bad as this is, it doesn’t define who we are as a community,” Howell said.

In the best scenario, she said, Penn State fans won’t abandon a weakened team — if only for the sake of the players and other students.

“I would hope that the Penn State fan base would continue to support these kids by coming to these games and being there for them,” she said. “These kids didn’t have anything do with this.”

Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan Chris Rosenblum contributed to this report.

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