The following oral history transcript is a digitally recorded interview with Heather Champion, Dickinson alum and Class of 1997. The interview took place at her office in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on October 31, 2007. The interview was conducted by Ricardo Velez Jr., an American Studies Major at Dickinson College.
MR. VELEZ: This is Ricardo Velez and I am interviewing Ms. Heather Champion on Halloween, October 31st. It is now 9:16 a.m. and we are in her office. Okay, well, first of all Ms. Champion, I want to thank you for allowing me this opportunity to interview you.
MS. CHAMPION: Sure
MR. VELEZ: First of all, can you describe your current position here at Dickinson?
MS. CHAMPION: Sure, I am the associate director of the Career Center. My role mainly entails connecting students with alumni and employers or career exploration, internships, jobs. Also, I am the pre-law advisor, so for students who are interested in moving on beyond Dickinson into law schools.
MR. VELEZ: How long have you been at your current position?
MS. CHAMPION: I’ve been at Dickinson for three and a half years
MR. VELEZ: When did you graduate?
MS. CHAMPION: May of ‘97
MR. VELEZ: Between your time as a student and, or, let me first off ask, after you graduated, did you intend on staying in the Dickinson area or…
MS. CHAMPION: No, I didn’t. I originally intended to move to Atlanta, Georgia. So I went down and I visited and found a place to live, but I never found a job. [chuckles] I didn’t move there, I just had flown down, checked everything out, I hadn’t actually looked for a job, which is kind of a key part of moving somewhere is figuring out how you’re going to pay to live there, and in the meantime I was still sitting in Carlisle for the summer. I was house-sitting for a professor who was doing the Malaga program over the summer, so I was house-sitting for her the summer after graduation. So while I was doing that, I ended up getting a job at Shippensburg University.
MR. VELEZ: Okay.
MS. CHAMPION: So, that’s sort of what happened. I ultimately decided just to take that job because, it was a job, versus moving somewhere where I didn’t have one, so that’s kind of what happened.
MR. VELEZ: Okay. And…
MS. CHAMPION: But I did not intend on staying originally.
MR. VELEZ: And then, after Shippensburg, you just decided to come back and apply here?
MS. CHAMPION: Yes, after a while. I stayed at Shippensburg, I worked, I got my master’s degree there. When I finished that, I decided to move back to Carlisle with my fiancé. He’s not from here either, but he was finishing law school. He still had another year to go. So, we decided to move to Carlisle for that year, but in the mean time, I was working at Harrisburg Area Community College. I took a job there until we decided where to move to, and where to live, and ultimately he was offered a position in Harrisburg, so we decided to stay here. So I continued working at HACC for a while, then I went to York College of Pennsylvania, worked there for about 2 ½ years, and then this position opened at Dickinson 3 ½ years ago, so that’s when I applied for it and came back here. So I was living in Carlisle, but commuting for a while before this position opened here.
MR. VELEZ: Okay. Now I guess between your time as a student and now, how would you rate the downtown area? How would you compare it, the downtown Carlisle area to how it is now?
MS. CHAMPION: I think that it’s definitely improved. There’s certainly more options of things to do, there are more shops, specialty shops, there are more restaurants. I think that, at least my perception is that the college has better relations with the community, the town, than at least my impression was as a student, and that could certainly be inaccurate. But that is definitely my perception, is that we seem to have a better relationship and we are more connected now, and as the college moves more into the community and students are living down on High Street and there’s more partnerships, so I think that the relationship is in hand, and that’s just helped to enhance the greater community as well.
MR. VELEZ: What has been the major change that you have seen between your time as a student and now?
MS. CHAMPION: In the town?
MR. VELEZ: Yes
MS. CHAMPION: The major change… I would say it’s actually two-fold. The revitalization of downtown, which is still ongoing. It’s not completely revived, its not done yet. They’re not there yet, but the revitalization, and that process and progress is one major aspect, but the other is the big box stores that have come in. Starting with Wal-Mart and I think Lowe’s actually, or Home Depot, I don’t remember which one came first now. They came in and from there, Target, Pier One, Old Navy, all of that’s just really expanded so, those two aspects I think are definitely the biggest. So its kind of the downtown center along with the, it’s not really the outskirts, but I guess a little bit further out than the walking area of downtown.
MR. VELEZ: Now, me as a student, personally, whenever I need to get something I just go straight up to Wal-Mart, buy it there, I guess toiletries, everything like that. Obviously, when you were a student, you didn’t have Wal-Mart or stuff like that around…
MS. CHAMPION: No, but that’s where K-Mart was actually. So, we did walk to K-Mart, and that was probably, I would say this, probably similar in that sense. I mean, now K-Mart’s obviously moved out, they are definitely not even close to being in walking distance anymore, but K-Mart was in, almost, not exactly the same location, I think K-Mart was actually where TJ Maxx was, I think. But, we still walked down there, the movie theatre was still there. That’s where that was at that point in time, so it’s just the format, though, that’s changed. And K-Mart was not, I don’t think, as huge an attraction. I think once Wal-Mart came to Carlisle, that attracted places like Home Depot, Lowe’s, TJ MAXX, Ross, that whole development there along with Target, Pier One, Old Navy, Starbucks.
MR. VELEZ: I know as part of the revitalization process for downtown, they have been putting in a lot more restaurants. Do you find that when you were a student, or before that, you and your classmates or friends would go out and eat often, or would you just always eat in the cafeteria?
MS. CHAMPION: We ate in the cafeteria, we ordered from Deli C [chuckles] at night. There were a couple of restaurants actually that, some of which don’t exist anymore. Market Cross was there, as was Backdoor and, I believe California Café was, but we never went there. I don’t know if it was just too expensive, or if we just never made it over to Pomfret Street, I don’t really know why that was. If we went out to eat, we pretty much went either to Market Cross or to a restaurant that was called BC’s Café, which is no longer there. It’s what’s now Mt. Fuji. So those are really pretty much, I think, the two places that we went. Unless your parents were coming into town, and then you went out to Boiling Springs Tavern or somewhere nicer and further out, but most of the other restaurants that are around now were not here….We ordered pizza, from Pizza Hut or Domino’s. I don’t think Papa John’s was here. You guys order from Papa John’s…
MR. VELEZ: Every now and then we order from Papa John’s.
MS. CHAMPION: Okay, yes, they weren’t here. Miseno’s wasn’t here.
MR. VELEZ: It’s seems like there are a lot of restaurants that I feel like have been here for a while, like, was Massey’s here?
MS. CHAMPION: Yes, Massey’s was here, yes.
MR. VELEZ: There’s some of the stuff that I see, and I am like, “Oh, it’s probably been here since people way, way back in the day… Not saying you were here way, way back in the day.
MS. CHAMPION: No, that’s ok. [laughs] I’m starting to feel like it. [chuckles]
MR. VELEZ: Do you feel that without the K-Mart, or the big box store effect, do you feel that being a student here would have been easier, I guess in the sense of going and doing one-stop shop. I know me personally, I don’t have that much time to go around here, there, and shopping everywhere. So, do you feel that having that K-Mart is better, or do you feel that you would have preferred the big box stores to stay out of the small town atmosphere like Carlisle, and you going around using more of the downtown area shops and everything?
MS. CHAMPION: I think they provide a completely different realm of services and goods, really. Wal-Mart, Target, those places, I mean, they’re great for that one stop shopping if you need some electronics or, I don’t know, if I need something to go camping for the weekend and I don’t want to run out to Dick’s, you can run over to Wal-Mart and pretty much pick up some propane or whatever. Groceries, something quick like that. Downtown I think is a lot more specialty shops. Their items that your not going to find at any of the big box stores, so I think its much more. Specialty clothing, the clothes you find at The Clothesvine, you’re not going to find those at Old Navy or Wal-Mart or any of those places. A lot of the gift shops, or the kind of specialty shops along Pomfret Street. It’s a completely different, I think, target audience and good, so it really depends on what you’re looking for. I don’t think-I could be wrong-but I don’t think it really matters if you’re a student, or living here, what you use those different stores for. I don’t necessarily like having to go to ten different places to run errands. What I consider to be errands, like picking up things that I need, but I like having this kind of specialty places to, “Oh, I need a gift for somebody,” and so, I can go check out a couple places along Pomfret Street and usually find something in one of the shops there, or the art. There is a kind of art store down on Hanover with pottery and art and different things along those lines. So, I think that’s more of what the downtown offers in terms of shopping is probably the more unique gift, specialty-type items.
MR. VELEZ: So do you feel by being those specialty-type stores, those are the reason that some of the stores that are still in the downtown area have, I guess you would say, survived with Wal-Mart still being around?
MS. CHAMPION: Yes, absolutely. Their targeting a different audience, their offering something that Wal-Mart doesn’t offer. I don’t know that I have seen the exact research on this, but I don’t believe that… People always talk about “Oh, Wal-Mart comes in and they swallow everybody up” and all these businesses go out of business, all the local businesses go out of business, and I would be interested to see how many local businesses actually went out of business because of Wal-Mart. I think that happened more so actually when Home Depot and Lowe’s came in, which came in probably because of Wal-Mart originally, but there were some local hardware stores that have changed into something completely different. They are no longer in existence, and I would venture to say because those types of places, if you’re working on a house of doing something yard/housework, those are really one-stop shopping for that kind of thing. And so, it is a lot easier to go there and get your lumber and get all the hardware parts and tools and a lighting fixture, than going to a small mom and pop hardware shop. I would bet that those places had more of an impact. I didn’t really see that many places go out of business that I was thinking to myself, “Oh, their probably going out of business because of Wal-Mart. The exception possibly being a camera shop. They focused just on cameras and photography and maybe they went…I’m not even sure if they went out of business, or if they moved locations, but that’s certainly something that Wal-Mart offers when they have the whole little camera area, they develop pictures. It’s pretty cheap, you can buy whatever kind of camera you want there. It’s not really individualized service. You’re not getting anyone who knows anything to help you, but I think most people, the average American doesn’t care if they’re buying a digital camera just to have for fun. Anybody who’s serious in photography is probably going into a more specialized place anyway.
MR. VELEZ: Do you feel that Wal-Mart has had a positive effect on the area, I guess as far as bringing in more business?
MS. CHAMPION: Yes, it’s probably an unpopular answer, but I think it has. I don’t think, I guess it depends on your perspective, but I don’t think that a lot of these other stores would have come in if it hadn’t been for Wal-Mart. They are sort of the ones who took the chance, I guess, on Carlisle. They came in, and when they came in, that entire plaza that they’re in, developed. All of those storefronts had been for rent, or for lease; they all filled. They all seem to be doing well enough. I don’t think any of them have gone out of business in the past few years that they’ve been here. Then came along Home Depot, Lowes, and like the other plaza with Target. I personally think that that’s really convenient to have, all of that here, where it is accessible. They created a lot of jobs for people as well. I know there is a lot of debate over how they treat their employees and I don’t want to necessarily get into that debate, but there are a lot of people employed there. A lot of people employed in a lot of those other places that have probably come in as a result of them and that’s good for the community. It’s good for the economy for people to have the opportunity for the jobs. I’m not saying that they’re necessarily good jobs, or that their necessarily treated maybe the way they should be or have the benefits they should. I don’t really know enough about that, but they certainly have the jobs. I’m always, you know, I’m a career counselor, I’m all about people working.
MR. VELEZ: Well, thank you very much
MS. CHAMPION: Sure, no problem. Good Luck.