What is Carlisle?
Traveling through Carlisle, it is difficult to let the comfortable hometown feeling go unnoticed. Small shops, restaurants, and a downtown rich in history all add to the personality of the area. It is home to Dickinson College, the first college chartered in the newly recognized United States of America. The Army War College is also located in Carlisle. Down the road one can find warehouses to some of the countries biggest producers such as Weis food market. Currently, the town is home to 17,970 people. This number, not including the college community, consists of old and new citizens of the town, local business owners, farmers, and the men and women of the War College. “Carlisle is like home. It is a future and an opportunity. A building ground that has a lot of energy. It is home,” said Matthew Pisano, speaking about Carlisle. The town is home to multiple restaurants such as Mt. Fuji, The Gingerbread Man, Piatto, Matty’s Kitchen, and many others. Among the businesses are a variety of bars and book, clothing, and antique stores.
In a downtown dealing with competition from “big box” stores, Carlisle relies on the success of its businesses. Small shops such as the Y-Not Gift Shop and Matty’s Kitchen, a local luncheonette, are among some of the businesses that close before late afternoon. Restaurants and bars present the only places in which people can consistently go during the night in downtown Carlisle. The question becomes whether these daytime businesses would profit from staying open later. In order to answer this question, businesses must first be profitable enough during the day to be able to open up at night.
The Downtown Perspective
As I entered Matty’s Kitchen, a comfortable atmosphere for eating lunch was immediately felt. Light music, a personal welcoming from the owners/chefs, and a small but detailed menu of lunch choices all add to the personality of the restaurant. A closer look into the unique style of Matty’s gave me the idea of the type of business capable of surviving in downtown Carlisle, but more importantly, succeeding in and supporting the economy of the town. Owned and run by Matthew Pisano and Cindi Pasi, Matty’s Kitchen has been in business for a little over two years. As a successful business owner in downtown Carlisle, Mr. Pisano still feels the constant pressure of “big box” stores, “they have a personal and individual effect on all of the business in downtown Carlisle.” Carlisle is currently home to a Wal-mart Super Center, Target, Khols, and Old Navy. In only the two years Mr. Pisano has been here, he has seen several stores go out of business because they cannot compete with the cheap prices of Wal-mart. He cites one specific example in which he realized how bad the downtown area truly was suffering:
“Downtown Carlisle should be a busy place, especially because it is a college town. I compare it to college towns such as Harvard where downtown areas thrive on constant flow of people, but not in Carlisle. Just as an example, this past Saturday was my birthday, but because there was car show in town and a convention at the Holiday Inn, I told my wife we should stay open. She convinced me not too, and said we wouldn’t make any business. That afternoon I went to the Backdoor Café, where I know the owner, and he had three people in his restaurant. And I looked around and realized there was nobody in the downtown area. Georges, Casa Mani, and other places all had no customers, and business was slow. So if I had stayed open what would I have made? $50-$100? It’s just not worth it when the town flow of people is so slow.”
Events such as the car shows bring over sixty thousand people to the Carlisle fairgrounds each time they take place, but few of those people ever make their way into the downtown area. Matty’s is one example of businesses not profiting from the car shows at the fairgrounds.
Speaking as a business owner trying to prosper in downtown Carlisle, Mr. Pisano passionately described his beliefs about the car shows and objectives the town must also carry out. “I think we need more in town to attract them and I think we need to lighten up on letting the cars [come through town],” said Mr. Pisano. Allowing more traffic to flow through the downtown area and/or proposing ideas for several car show parades per year could generate more business in downtown. The annual Chip Miller Memorial Corvette Parade is a big spectacle through the streets of downtown. “They could do that with every single car show, but they don’t, and I don’t know why. We haven’t tapped into that,” said Matthew. In revitalizing the downtown economy, business owners such as Matthew strongly believe in using Carlisle Events and their car shows as a consistent resource for the town.
 http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/SAFFFacts Matthew Pisano, Interview with Author, October 25, 2007. Matthew Pisano, Interview with Author, October 25, 2007All photographs taken from dickinson.edu