2017 marks a special year for one cheesemonger in a Pennsylvania college town.
Bill Clarke—who opened The Cheese Shoppe in State College, Pa., in February 1977—is celebrating 40 years of business. Having previously spent several years working at a gourmet food and cheese shop in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Clarke developed a passion for curds and decided to try opening his own store. His search for a shop space led him on a two-hour drive west to the hometown of Penn State, and he settled on a lot where a new structure was being built.
“I put everything I had into this store,” Clarke tells culture. “I went through some tough times.”
In the shop’s early days, Clarke would drive four hours to warehouses in New York City and New Jersey to hand-select wheels to stock his large cheese counter; according to an Onward State video, the store once offered more than 200 types of cheese. But due to a shrinking demand for dairy and closures of cheese warehouses, he streamlined his selection (he now offers 80 different cheeses). Clarke also started roasting and selling coffee to help keep The Cheese Shoppe afloat.
“I was told that I was one of the first six in-store roasters when I started the coffee, and it saved my cheese shop.”
Four decades on, The Cheese Shoppe has become a fixture in this central Pennsylvania town. Clarke, now 73, says he’s proud to have owned and managed the business for so long. And if there’s one thing he’s learned over the past 40 years, it’s that passion is the backbone of success.
“I’ve found if you love what you do, you do [your job] much better than if you just do it for money,” says Clarke.
He’s also grateful for his dedicated patrons, some of whom playfully fight over who was the first customer. Clarke knows who the actual first shopper is; he still frequents the store, as do his daughter and grandchildren.
“It makes me feel good that I have customers who want to argue about who was first,” says Clarke. “I’m thankful for all my customers who, most of them, have turned into friends and without them, I wouldn’t be here.”
Feature Photo Courtesy of The Cheese Shoppe