End of an Era: With the sale of liquor licenses, the central Pennsylvania family exited the bar business after more than 60 years



The New Year began as the end of an era for the Lawson family of central Pennsylvania.

This is the first time in decades that there hasn’t been a Lawson-owned bar or tavern in the middle of the state.

When Todd Lawson, 59, of Lower Paxton Twp., Sold his liquor license last fall, decades of family holding liquor licenses in Dauphin County came to an end.

“At one point, my family owned six taverns in central Pennsylvania. Not bad for a hard working African American family, ”said Todd Lawson.

The last of those businesses to close was Lawson’s Lounge in Steelton last year. Lawson said it was time to close the doors.

“I have four grandchildren now,” he says. “When you are the owner you are also like the marketer, the manager, human resources, you are all of these entities and I have seen the business change as a result … more people are drinking at home, the DUIs had an effect on that. ”

Lawson said he signed a sales agreement for the liquor license just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sale was initiated in November 2019 but was not completed until October 2020.

The license Todd Lawson sold for the North Front Street salon in Steelton was acquired in the late 1950s by a cousin. Lawson’s father had two licenses, another cousin had one, as did an uncle.

Other businesses owned by Lawson in the years from the 1950s include Lawson’s on Seventh Street, Lester’s in Steelton as well as Stan Lawson’s Palace, Charlie and Erne’s, Ernestine’s and Soneez’s.

Stan Lawson was a longtime president of the NAACP, Greater Harrisburg Chapter; former president of AFSCME of Pennsylvania and former president of Susquehanna Twp. commissioners.

Stan Lawson Palace, 3500 Walnut St. in Harrisburg, 1991 (The Patriot-News)Harrisburg Patriot-News

Todd said he learned about the business from his father, Charlie Lawson.

But it wasn’t a business he initially wanted to pursue. Todd Lawson graduated from the University of Shippensburg then worked for IBM and Highmark. For 30 years he worked in American companies while simultaneously working in the salon for 15 years.

“I grew up in the business helping my dad so I already had the operations side of the business down which is a big plus when you go into business yourself so I just had to learn the administrative side, ”he said. “I wasn’t initially interested in it myself, but like everyone you start to look for, alcohol seemed to be recession-proof, its investment aspect drew me even more into it. ‘business. And I was right. Despite all the trials and tribulations, people still seem to drink.

Lawson Family Businesses

Charlie Lawson at Lawson’s Grille and Nightclub in Steelton in 2003 (The Patriot-News)

Now her children are successful in their own careers and have no interest in owning a bar. And, said Lawson, times have changed.

While it is sad to see the Lawson family business come to an end “from a historical perspective,” Lawson said he was tired and “the dynamics of the business have changed.”

For now, Lawson has said he will operate a restaurant only, while taking advantage of his grandchildren and looking for business opportunities. He hopes to reopen his Steelton location as a restaurant only after COVID-19.

He has worked with Steelton Borough Councilor Denae House, and she is confident that he “will be successful in whatever he does.” I’ve known Todd for 30 years and he was the Compliance Officer for my nonprofit agency. Whenever I need advice this is my first phone call as he is experiencing so many issues. “

Lawson Family Businesses

Lawson’s Nite Club in 2004. (The Patriot-News)PN


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