A man once told me I had to stop looking at the past if I ever wanted to get ahead in life. I was in the Campus Sundry, buying God knows what (I’ve been through phases) and watching the 2010 Winter Olympics with the owner, Paul Abraham. I don’t know why I remember that moment so vividly. It was generic advice, admittedly, and there were countless other life lessons I learned from him. The Sundry was where my friends stopped before heading home after a night out partying. He had the cheapest tobacco in town and a friendly dog he called Star.
Abraham died in 2011, and with him The Campus Sundry died too. One of the best parts of the Athens night life is the adventure home, and for me that almost always included a stop at The Sundry. Now it’s gone; Athens has moved on without it and another store is left to deal with my late-night alter-ego.
The empty shell that was once my favorite store was heavily damaged recently in a fire that affected several businesses on Union Street, indefinitely closing another Athens staple: The Union Bar and Grill. It was the place where I had my first … college experience. Now I may never go there again. I could never have imagined this town without those places.
The Union and The Sundry got me thinking. Athens is a historic town with an old and great university. There had to be other places that closed down that defined the Athens experience for past students, only to be replaced with establishments that define mine.
At the top of Morton Hill there used to be an empty building next to the Church of the Good Shepherd. It was boarded up, but it did house a functioning Chase ATM on the side until it was torn down my sophomore year. That building was once known as The Oasis, and it was a deli/convenience store combo that was on campus for over a century.
The Oasis was for many students the same thing that The Sundry was for me, the last stop before home. It suffered a similar fate. With the passing of owner John Farley in 2002, The Oasis was sold to Ohio University, which closed it only four years later. Erin Councilman, a 1999 alumna and former Oasis employee, said the school didn’t want The Oasis to compete with the new Baker University Center.
“There was talk of doing various things with the building,” she said. “My favorite was the organic grocery store. What are students going to do with an on-campus organic grocery store? Then, as I recall, asbestos was found in the attic, and asbestos abatement would have cost much more than the building was worth to save, so we were left with the green space we have today.”
According to Councilman, The Oasis had many different functions over the years.
“The Oasis used to be the Greyhound bus depot in addition to being its wacky little restaurant/snack bar self,” she said. “That made for some god-awful traffic jams on Morton Hill. Before the Oasis was a restaurant, it was a Laundromat and dry cleaner. It was run by the same family, the Farleys. It changed from a cleaning place to a restaurant in the ’60s when kids no longer wore clothes that needed dry cleaning.”
Another place that defined the “Athens experience” for Councilman was a place on Court Street called The Story Shop.
“The place was amazing,” she said. “There were stacks and stacks of books piled clear to the ceiling, and always some friendly foster cats from the Athens County Humane Society to help you make your selection.”
The cats reminded Councilman of home, which is the same feeling I always got when visiting Abraham’s dog at The Sundry.
“As a homesick freshman who missed my cats, I would go in there and look at books and hang out with a cat for hours,” she said.
The owners of The Story Shop retired and moved back to their home state of Indiana, where they still run The Story Shop albeit online. The space it occupied on Court Street became The Import House.
Academics aside, Athens has always been notorious as a party school. Perhaps the most noticeable changes over the years have come to the bar scene. The list of defunct bars in Athens is extensive, and many of them share the same Athens flavor as most of the current establishments.
For instance, Jackie O’s has had a beer on tap called O’Hooley’s Irish Stout. That’s a shout-out to the bar’s former name: O’Hooley’s Irish Pub, which operated similarly to Jackie O’s as a popular local brewpub. Next to O’Hooley’s was a place known as Skipper’s, which also was purchased by Jackie O’s.
A big name in the Athens music scene in the ’70s and early ’80s was a bar called Swanky’s, which hosted Bruce Springsteen the night before he played in Memorial Auditorium during his Born to Run tour. According to Jessica Cyders of the Athens County Historical Society, Swanky’s closed in the early ’80s after the owner, Ivan Faske, was arrested on drug charges. Swanky’s later caught fire, setting an unfortunate trend, and the space is now occupied by CVS Pharmacy.
Many Ohio University students would cherish the opportunity to live in a dorm building with its own bar. Bromley Hall used to have a bar, however that was before the University purchased the building, known as the College Inn at the time. The bar was called The Nickelodeon, but like The Oasis it fell victim to closure after OU purchased it.
One of the more recent changes to the bar scene is the transformation of The Junction. It was still open when I started college and was on the list of bars my friends and I could get into despite being under 21. You could get in there with seemingly any ID card, and I may have even used a jack of spades once. The Junction was known for what was called “Quad-Night,” where they doubled the amount of alcohol in their mixed drinks. That special was apparently started by former XFL president Basil DeVito way back in 1975. The Junction was sold, renovated and renamed The J Bar after it was sold in 2011 to Dave Cornwall.
Perhaps the most notorious of all drink specials in Athens was 25-cent beer night at Hanger-5. The quarter beer was started by owner Bruce Richmond and current Christian Moerlein Brewing Company owner Greg Hardman. On the first night of the special, Hardman claims Hanger-5 sold 60 kegs of beer.
Jerry Schetterer, a 1990 alumnus, said Hanger-5 was an actual hangar at some point, which made it rather large compared to most other bars. However, that didn’t mean that space wasn’t an issue.
“There were nights where you couldn’t move because there were so many people,” he said. “They stated having beer trucks outside because they couldn’t serve everyone at the bar inside.”
Although it was a very popular bar, Schetterer said Hanger-5 had more than just space problems.
“I remember there was some kind of spray insulation on the rafters, and it would occasionally fall into your beer.”
There’s a great website called athensohiobars.com that keeps a list of the defunct bars. Sadly, that list will only get longer. One day, many years from now, another Ohio University student will load up on coffee the same as I did and write a story similar to this one. The only difference will be that it will include my current favorite hangout spots.
Garrett Austin Greene is a senior studying news and information in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. He hopes to cover news one day, perhaps even internationally. He was raised on a farm in Smithfield, Ohio and he’s addicted to caffeine, sports and the outdoors.