With school out, area businesses brace for a drop in customers

Lee Billings

At the end of spring semester, the University community experiences an exodus of students, leaving many classrooms and apartments empty until fall. But the departure of students from campus also affects area business.

According to data from the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, last spring’s undergraduate enrollment was approximately 26,000 students. By 2002’s summer session, undergraduate enrollment had fallen to roughly 8,500 students – a 67 percent drop.

That summer decline can be troublesome for area businesses that rely on students’ dollars to stay profitable.

“During the school year business is pretty steady, but in the summer it kind of dies in this area,” said Sarah Johnson, an employee at the Dinkytown Cheapo Discs store.

“The Loring Pasta Bar sort of helped a couple years ago when it moved in – it picked up the night business a little bit,” Johnson said of Cheapo’s summer sales. “But we have such random business to begin with, it’ll be dead for two hours and then there’ll suddenly be 25 people in here and another 30 waiting in line.”

Dinkytown isn’t the only area where businesses run into summertime trouble. Employees at the European Grind cafe and Harvard Market convenience stores said slow summer business is also typical in Stadium Village.

“It gets really dead around here,” said Elissa Zurbriggen, a barista at European Grind. “Being so close to the Superblock, we’re really affected.”

Phillip Boice, a cashier at Harvard Market East, said the company orders less food during the summer because of dwindling customers.

“The numbers of customers are a lot lower,” Boice said. “After finals week, once everyone has their papers and tests done, we see a big drop-off.”

The summer student exodus apparently does not hurt all area businesses, however. Some even reported they get busier each summer.

“In the summertime, when it’s nice, there are more people outside, more people walking by,” said Megan Barbour of Everyday People Clothing Exchange. “So give or take, there are less students, but there are more people out on the streets. I would say we get more walk-ins during the summer.”

Other establishments claim immunity from the summer student drought because students are not their main clientele.

“It’s sad to see (students) go – Dinkytown has a lot more life when school’s in – but it doesn’t really hurt our business much,” said Joseph Amara, operations director at Magus Books & Herbs. “It’s only about 2 percent of our business that comes from students here Ö Most of the folks who visit us come deliberately to see us; we really don’t get a lot of walk-by traffic.”

Lee Billings is a freelance writer.

The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]