The following oral history transcript is a digitally recorded interview with Susan Rose, Dickinson alum and Class of 1977. The interview took place at her office in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on November 19, 2007. The interview was conducted by Ricardo Velez Jr., an American Studies Major at Dickinson College.
MR. VELEZ: It is November 19, 2007. It is 1:37. I am currently in the Community Studies Center office building and I am interviewing Professor Susan Rose. First of all, Miss Rose, thank you for consenting to this interview
MS. ROSE: You’re welcome
MR. VELEZ: Could you describe a little what you do here at Dickinson?
MS. ROSE: Sure, I teach in the sociology department and I am also director of the Community Studies Center.
MR. VELEZ: How long have you been working here?
MS. ROSE: I’ve been working here for 23 years, since 1984.
MR. VELEZ: When did you graduate Dickinson?
MS. ROSE: I graduated in 1977
MR. VELEZ: When you graduated, did you always intend on staying in the immediate area?
MS. ROSE: No. [laughs] No, I left for… I actually finished off at the University of Pennsylvania, though my degree is from Dickinson, and then I taught in New Hampshire for three years and then went to graduate school at Cornell in New York for four years and then just looked to see what jobs were on the market.
MR. VELEZ: Was Dickinson one of your first choices?
MS. ROSE: Yes, and I actually wasn’t really planning on taking a job. I was going to do an ethnographic film, and then the Dickinson job came along, and actually, sort of two others in various forms. So I decided that I would come for a year or two, and here I am, 24 years later.
MR. VELEZ: Now, reminiscing back to your time as a student, how did you feel about the Downtown Carlisle area?
MS. ROSE: I thought it was fine. I didn’t go off campus that much and that was the case with a lot of other students as well. So I didn’t have a car. The most time that I spent downtown was actually working at the prison, and that was when the prison was on High Street. That old, sort of fortress-looking building. So I was doing counseling there two or three times a week, and other than that… My parents also loved Carlisle, so they would come back. We would go to the Bellaire House, which is now, I think, an insurance agency. It’s the little steps that go up next to Amy’s Thai Restaurant.
MR. VELEZ: Oh, Okay.
MS. ROSE: And that used to be a restaurant that a lot of folks went to. It had sort of that feel of grandma in terms of the food. It also was a little stuffy, but it had great rhubarb sauce. So when my parents came to town, we would go there and we would go to Rillo’s, which is the Italian/Steak Restaurant sort of across the tracks, so to speak. But other than that, there wasn’t really a whole lot. I would go shopping at Woolworth’s, that’s when Woolworth’s was still downtown.
MR. VELEZ: Were there as many restaurants as…
MS. ROSE: No
MR. VELEZ: No, not nearly?
MS. ROSE: Not nearly. Very few in fact. The Hamilton was there, so students would go down for Hot-chie dogs, like at three and four in the morning. That was a tradition that dates way back, and the Bel-Air House. They had the truck stops, but they were further out, they weren’t really within walking distance, and Rillo’s, that’s about all I remember. I don’t know if you want me to talk… I have even more specific information, like in 1984, you want that?
MR. VELEZ: Oh, that’s perfect.
MS. ROSE: So when I first came in the fall of 1984, I had just moved from Ithaca, New York. The first week of classes was starting and I had a professional meeting, the American Soc [Sociological] Meetings in San Antonio, Texas. So I went off to give those two papers and came back and the computer in my office hadn’t been set up yet, so I was sort of teaching the first week of classes without all my materials set up. So by the time the weekend came, I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to sort of relax, let the anxiety kind of flow out. So my idea was I’d do what I usually did up in Ithaca, which was look for a good bagel, good cup of coffee, read The New York Times, and then I’d sort of get back to work and be grounded and be ready for the next week. So I remember, in ’84, going around. I actually lived in the Seven Gables, which was torn down. It’s by where the Giant is now…
MR. VELEZ: Oh, Okay.
MS. ROSE:…and that cemetery. So I went looking for a place what was open on Sundays because at that point, most places were still closed on Sundays. In fact you couldn’t buy alcohol or wine until just a few months ago in Carlisle. But at that point, you also couldn’t get a good cup of coffee or The New York Times, nor a bagel in town. The only places that were open on Sunday morning were the truck stops. So I remember going to the truck stop and having eggs and fries. Again, Rillo’s was here, I think the Bellaire House might have still been here, and as far as I recall, there were no other restaurants in town. You know, it’s been amazing over the last 24 years… First BackDoor [Restaurant], that was great, and then they sold. But BackDoor and Piatto, A La Tarte sort of came in as the coffee shop initially but Morris [Owner of Piatto] had… He first had a little bakery where he just sold baked goods. Little store, then he started A La Tarte as a coffee shop and then a lunch place, and then he opened Piatto. So it’s really been amazing in terms of both the number of stores, but particularly restaurants where now you can get Japanese, Indian, it’s not very good…
MR. VELEZ: [laughs] I’ve only been there once and it was eh…
MS. ROSE: Yes, I’m not going back until I hear that it’s really changed.
MR. VELEZ: It just seems so weird, like being a student now, like you wake up in the morning, there’s Fay’s, and there’s Country Kitchen, everything like that…
MS. ROSE: Yes, Fay’s wasn’t here then. It was so sad. Actually, when I came back to interview for the job, and thinking about taking the job here, Fay’s was open then.
MR. VELEZ: That was the clincher…
MS. ROSE: That was the clincher, it was, it was. I’d have to say, I certainly didn’t take the job at Dickinson because of Carlisle. In fact, I had a lot of ambivalence…
MR. VELEZ: Coming back…
MS. ROSE: …coming back, yes. Carlisle wasn’t necessarily a place that I would choose, but it ended up being a great job.
MR. VELEZ: As a student, do you ever remember the downtown being, I guess you would say, a “bustling downtown,” like a lot of people? Or do you see it more as how it is now?
MS. ROSE: No, in fact, if anything, I’d probably saw it as less lively…
MR. VELEZ: Really?
MS. ROSE: Yes, I don’t remember it as being lively. As I said, I didn’t go a lot, but I would go to Woolworth’s, that was right on Hanover Street. Yes, I think there’s more going on, sort of more attention to the downtown now. I mean, you did have Woolworth’s. There are more stores that are probably looking to be rented now than before. But I’m not sure it’s changed that much in that regard. A lot of different kinds of businesses have come and gone, but I wouldn’t have called it bustling back then.
MR. VELEZ: Obviously, back then, there weren’t the whole big box stores like Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, everything like that. What affect do you think those big box stores may have had on the downtown, or are having now?
MS. ROSE: Yes, and probably if I hadn’t been here as a student, but as I say, I can’t really tell how accurate or perceptive my perception would have been because I didn’t go off campus that much. So as a sociologist, I would say they’re probably having a huge impact. The reality is, I’m not sure, because I don’t remember many stores being in town where students would go shopping. Well, Dutry’s [Shoes] has moved out…now, and they’re in another location, so there are probably somewhat fewer clothing stores, but it’s not as though there were many stores that college students went to. So anyhow, I’m sort of split. I would think as a sociologist looking at that Target and Wal-Mart would have really drawn people away. And certainly Wal-Mart is drawing students, the students who might once have gone to Woolworth’s. So the coffee shop still seemed to be going strong, I think Panera probably had a bigger impact until the local coffee shops, but that sense of it really draining away, I’m not sure. I can understand why it would be a common perception, but it’d be interesting to see the research you guys are doing and what empirical evidence there may be for that.
MR. VELEZ: In some research, like when I was interviewing Ms. Champion, she actually felt that the effect of like having Wal-Mart here was actually more positive because, for instance, the whole M and J Mall, that whole shopping center and everything, she said that once Wal-Mart came, all these other stores started to spring up. It was sort of like a gateway opening.
MS. ROSE: Well, that’s true. Actually, when I go back to it, there was…I think that was when I first came… I never went to the mall. I don’t have any idea when the malls were built, so as a student, that was irrelevant to me. So I think it was when I came back in ’84 that both the MJ mall and the Carlisle Plaza were…more full and more, sort of, bustling. And then a whole bunch of different stores went in, I can’t remember their names now, and so there was a period where both the malls sort of became like ghost towns. And then with Wal-Mart coming back in, that’s really revitalized…Panera and Wal-Mart, so that area’s been revitalized and… Yes, the Carlisle Plaza Mall is really pretty sad. Lowes coming is more there, but it’s never…it’s still not as good as it used to be in terms of shops. Bon-Ton is still there, but… In the ‘80s, those were both pretty strong, and then by the ‘90s, somewhere in the ‘90s, mid-‘90s, they seem to really decline.
MR. VELEZ: So, as a student now, when I need to go shopping and all that stuff, I just go to Wal-Mart, got to K-Mart, that one stop shop. As a student when you were here, would Woolworth provide that, or was it more of a…
MS. ROSE: I think it was Woolworths. Yes, and we had a much smaller… I mean, the bookstore now is bigger at Dickinson. But yes, [I] pretty much didn’t go into town to eat at all unless my parents were coming up, and then it was either Bel-Air house or Rillo’s, and so it was [Woolworths] for the stuff you needed, whether it was tape, or cups…
MR. VELEZ: All those little odds and ends. So did you ever find yourself, like when you had to go shopping, did you ever find yourself leaving the town area completely and maybe going to Mechanicsburg, or did you just make do with what was in the area?
MS. ROSE: Yes, because I didn’t have a car, so… Most people didn’t have a car back then. Except one of my friends, and then we would go out to Leo’s Dairy, which is… actually, back to sort of being Leo’s Dairy. They had a dairy farm and really good ice cream, and then that sort of went under, and now it’s an auction, and now it’s back to being part of a Farmer’s Market. But that would be the only place that we would go. We must have gotten pizza somewhere though…
MR. VELEZ: Maybe George’s?
MS. ROSE: Not George’s, but George’s would have probably been there. I don’t remember where we would have gotten pizza.
MR. VELEZ: Your perspective now versus your perspective as both a student, and when you first came back in ’84, would you say that [the] downtown area has taken steps forward, taken steps back…?
MS. ROSE: Yes, I would say taken steps forward. Then again, I’m not a business person. But yea, for me, as a person living in Carlisle, it’s just a very comfortable town. I like going downtown. I go to the coffee shops a lot, grade a lot of papers at A La Tarte, you’ve got Martha’s, not Martha’s, but Mattie’s Kitchen. You know, a whole bunch of little restaurants that are really good. Excellent, both on the empire’s there and now. Mt. Fuji. Backdoor has slid some, but [it] used to be really, really good. You can get pastries Saturday morning, so a lot of people go to Piatto now and have pastries and coffee. There was an older…I think it was called the ClothesVine back then…
MR. VELEZ: They still exist today.
MS. ROSE: Yes, and it’s owned by a different person. I think it had the same name, but they had cooler clothes before that weren’t so outrageously expensive. But anyhow, it’s sort of nice. I never, I boycott Wal-Mart, on principle, so I will go to K-mart or Target and, at times, twice, we’ll go to Wegman’s. But basically, shop at the local grocery stores. Do a lot of shopping in town. [I] sort of have made it a point, too, to go to the Farmer’s Market, to try and buy local. So, I think, there’s more of a push in terms of sustainability. My son says they’re always having bands and parades that when the kids were little, were really fun. But my son says it’s pretty thriving, a lot of people are paying a lot of attention.
MR. VELEZ: Obviously, they are opening up a Starbucks soon. Do you think you’ll see yourself going to Starbuck’s now?
MS. ROSE: No, I’ll go to Casa Mani. It has much better coffee.
MR. VELEZ: Oh really?
MS. ROSE: Oh yes, probably the best coffee in town. Definitely. Yes, Starbucks, when it first came out, it was better than a lot of places, but by now, I think a lot of other places have much better coffee than Starbucks.
MR. VELEZ: So you like the school’s approach as far as trying to get more students more into the downtown, like with the renting out of 25/27 High Street?
MS. ROSE: Yes, that seems to be working pretty well. I mean, they seem to have been involved in a number of different things. I think often there are misperceptions, both on the part of Dickinson students towards the townspeople, and the townspeople towards Dickinson students. And certainly there are some Dickinson students who drive fancy cars and are arrogant. But there are a lot of really neat, smart, generous Dickinson students, too, who are doing a lot in the community and for the community. And also, the whole range of local folks, from professionals to working class people. So, I think it’s really a good idea. I like the…more of the interaction. I think there’s much less of a split, that barriers things that really [have] been falling away. And I think both Bill Durden [President of Dickinson College] and Rusty Shunk [Executive Vice President of College/Community Development] have been really working at that.
MR. VELEZ: As a student, or when you first came back, did you notice the school doing any sort of push like that for the downtown area…
MS. ROSE: No, none.
MR. VELEZ: So you feel this whole resurgence with downtown really happened within the past maybe 10 years, 10-15 years, or so?
MS. ROSE: Yes, I’d say probably the last 10.
MR. VELEZ: Okay, well, thank you Ms. Rose…
MS. ROSE: You’re welcome
MR. VELEZ: …Thank you very much. You were very helpful.