When entering the Old Snack Bar, stillness permeates the air. Just a half dozen students quietly study at the booths on any given day. The silence is jarringly different from the third floor of the library where the most social students tend to study. The phrase “You could hear a needle drop” was invented for this place. But the Old Snack Bar was not always like this.
The Knorr Student Center was built in 1964 to act as a student union as a result of increased desire for such a space among the students. By the 2000s, not as many students used the building, but the Old Snack Bar still acted as a space for students to study and hang out.
Ben Liebing ’08 attended Hillsdale toward the end of the Old Snack Bar’s popularity.
“When I was there, it was used a lot,” he said. “I could tell it was starting to tail off. A lot of the freshmen — a lot of people — still hung out there, but it was on its last legs. There was a certain group of people who would study there, and they would be there all the time.”
At that time, students ate their meals at the dining hall on the other end of the Knorr Center. They spent lots of their free time in the snack bar, according to Liebing.
“Back in the day, you could smoke in there,” he said. “It became known as the smoking lounge. If you wanted to smoke inside, you could go smoke and study.”
Associate Professor of Classics Eric Hutchinson, who graduated from Hillsdale in 2002, also recalls when smoking was allowed in the building.
“The room was often a haze,” he said.
In addition to having the reputation of being a smoking lounge, Liebing also said swing dances were held there every wek, just as they are today. But one tradition that has been lost through the years were student concerts called “coffee houses.”
These concerts were open mic nights for students and their bands. According to Liebing, who participated in the “coffee houses,” students would sign up to perform in shows featuring several different bands. Sometimes, he said, students would host concerts during big events such as Parents Weekend or Homecoming, at which times about 100 people might attend.
Hutchinson said when he was a student, the Knorr was the only “non-classroom building on campus.”
“Anything where you needed a moderate amount of space on campus was going to happen there,” he said.
In addition to the concerts, the Old Snack Bar used to have a jukebox, according to Public Services Librarian Linda Moore.
“The snack bar served the same function as AJ’s does now,” she said in an email. “It’s principal function was to give students a place to eat when the cafeteria was closed.”
While “coffee houses” are a thing of the past, students still gather to perform music in the snack bar on a regular basis. InterVarsity Ministries runs Soma, a time of Christian worship through song every Thursday night. Niedfeldt Head Resident Assistant Alexander Green helps lead these worship nights. The Old Snack Bar is a great place to hold Soma’s worship nights and occasional speakers.
“We use the Old Snack Bar because it’s right in the middle of campus and because the Dow Center supplies some of our equipment,” he said in an email. “We often have speakers or other events, so it’s great to have the versatility of the room whether we need furniture or not. Although it is not fancy, it provides a convenient place to meet. The acoustics in there aren’t half bad, either.”
For Green, he appreciates that the room is not too fancy. If anything, it enhances the desired atmosphere.
“The room provides a nice place to gather closely,” he said. “I actually appreciate that it doesn’t have anything fancy because it helps me to remember that people can worship God in any setting. Paul sang in a jail, why can’t we sing in a snack bar?”
Hutchinson said the snack bar is a much less busy spot these days, but it still serves similar functions as it once did.
“It’s much more of a niche spot than it used to be,” he said. “People would often stay in there all night and camp out. You could go in there any hour of the night and find giant stacks of books on tables. It was one of the big non-library study spots on campus.”
Hillsdale’s campus has changed through the years, but the snack bar has held a similar role in the daily lives of students. It has weathered through the college’s history. Hutchinson recalled one time he was sitting in the lobby outside of the snack bar, which is now the computer lab. It was September 11, 2001.
“President Larry Arnn came in and briefly talked to everybody,” he said of the fateful day. “He announced that classes would not be cancelled, and we would keep doing what we were doing.”
Amidst the changes of campus and the larger national culture, Hillsdale students are still doing what they do: spending time in the snack bar studying, singing, and dancing, but certainly not smoking.