By David Rockower
According to the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau’s recent report on the impact of sports and tourism, when you consider ticketed attendees, media, tailgaters, and opposing teams, around 890,500 people enjoy Happy Valley during a typical football season. This regular influx of visitors has spurred creativity among lodging and accommodations businesses who have learned how to cater to Penn State football fans.
With most hotels booked a year in advance of game weekends, finding local accommodations can be tricky, but there are other options. In addition to bed & breakfasts who lure fans with good meals and unique experiences, some local residents now rent their homes to visitors during football season.
The We Are Inn offers 16 guest rooms and provides a shuttle service to home football games. Credit: Pat Romano.
Pat Romano — owner and operator of Phillipsburg’s We Are Inn — is a Philly guy. He grew up the city, where he developed a passion for food and cooking.
“I cooked with my mom and grandmom, I worked in cheesesteak shops and delis in Philadelphia, where I learned how to make some of the best sandwiches people ever had. I brought all these things from Philly up here. It’s based on what I grew up eating,” said Romano.
“Having all the people who come in and enjoy the food, enjoy their stay, and just enjoy the area. We tie it all together nicely, and it’s great being part of the process,” said Romano.
The We Are Inn, which has 16 guest rooms, opened in 2019. Just after they got things rolling, though, they had to shut down for the Covid-19 pandemic.
“And then we were deemed essential, so we opened up the lodging. In the middle of August 2020, we were able to open up for food and start serving people,” said Romano. The We Are Inn is filled with Penn State memorabilia. “If you look at the bar, there’s a blonde wood stripe down the middle. It’s flooring from the Bryce Jordan Center basketball court. It’s a good conversation piece,” said Romano.
The We Are inn is filled with Penn State memorabilia. Credit: Pat Romano
The We Are Inn was voted the No. 1 game day restaurant in Centre County by the CDT. Romano said that many older fans love coming to Phillipsburg to watch the games, because it gets them away from the college students. He also has guests who return every year.
“If you look at the bar, there’s a blonde wood stripe down the middle. It’s flooring from the Bryce Jordan Center basketball court. It’s a good conversation piece,” said Romano.
“We have a couple from Nebraska that come for two games every year. People like the convenience. We have a shuttle bus that takes people to the stadium, so they don’t have to buy a parking pass. It takes them right to the We Are Inn tailgate near the stadium,” he explained. It’s the whole package that makes it meaningful. “Having all the people who come in and enjoy the food, enjoy their stay, and just enjoy the area. We tie it all together nicely, and it’s great being part of the process,” said Romano.
The Limestone Inn offers a quiet stay just minutes from downtown. Photo credit: Carrie Kauffman.
Carrie Kauffman and her husband, Dave Yoxtheimer, purchased The Limestone Inn nine years ago and have been renting for home football games ever since.
“At first, we rented throughout the year, but we’ve settled into a routine where we mostly rent during football weekends and Penn State graduation,” said Kauffman. The Limestone Inn, which includes five guest rooms, used to offer a buffet breakfast, but the Covid-19 pandemic changed that, but for good.
“During the pandemic, we stopped offering a breakfast buffet and started plating meals for individuals. That is something we’ve stuck with; it’s actually easier and allows us to customize for our guests,” said Kauffman.
Kickoff times matter at The Limestone Inn, as Kauffman and Yoxtheimer are flexible with the timing of their breakfasts. “We shift our mealtimes based on the start time of the games,” she added.
Creating a friendly and welcoming atmosphere has led to repeat customers. Many of their guests book year after year. “That’s the most rewarding part of the business,” said Kauffman.
Some State College residents open their entire homes for football weekends. It can be a lucrative business for homeowners, but it’s not always a welcome enterprise in Centre County. Townships and boroughs are beginning to require rental permits or licensing fees. Neighbors can also be leery of noisy renters infringing on their space during football weekends. Due to these concerns, the short-term renter with whom we spoke asked to remain anonymous. He rents his borough home for three or four football weekends. “The borough is historically an expensive place to live. When my wife and I started our careers here, we needed the extra money to support working on our home, to get the home to where we wanted it to be,” he said.
He and his family enjoy creating a memorable experience for his guests. “We try to play to people’s nostalgia. We give our guests Grilled Stickies. Most of our renters are Penn State alums and remember putting stickies in the pan and having coffee on a football morning.” He also promotes walking to the stadium, walking downtown and patronizing the local businesses.
“The borough is historically an expensive place to live. When my wife and I started our careers here, we needed the extra money to support working on our home, to get the home to where we wanted it to be."
For those who are considering renting their home, he recommends talking to your neighbors, and realizing that there is some discomfort with having people stay in your home. “If you can get past that discomfort and add a personal touch to the experience, it can be rewarding.”