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Local businesses reflect on change in university calendar

Local businesses benefitted from increased shopping and spending by students during the holiday season with Ohio University in session after Thanksgiving break for the first time in decades.

Business boomed for many shops and restaurants as students searched for gifts for family and friends and ventured Uptown to celebrate the holidays, said Wendy Jakmas, president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce, in an email.

I have heard many positive comments from Uptown merchants as well as businesses, restaurants and retail establishments located on East State Street,” Jakmas said. “We were so happy to have the students here to experience first-hand all the activities.”

Pamela Rollins, owner of Mountain Laurel Gifts, 25 S. Court St., said so many people came in to shop that she ran out of some merchandise and had to make a last-minute order after students went home for winter break.

“With students being here, we didn’t know how it was gong to be, but it really impacted our sales,” Rollins said. “We were a lot busier than normal.”

Rollins added that even though students were shopping primarily for Christmas gifts, they might now come to Mountain Laurel for other occasions during the rest of the year.

“Sometimes students don’t find us,” Rollins said. “I’ve had people come in and say, 'I’ve never been in here before.’ But (students) were shopping for their families and wandering around (Uptown). I think it's going to impact my business long term, because maybe they’ll come back not just for Christmas.”

Lindsey Spanner, a junior studying communication studies and Spanish, was one student who took advantage of Uptown stores to buy gifts for her family. Since break started close to the holidays, she said she did a majority of her Christmas shopping locally to save time.

“I knew I wouldn’t have much time (to shop) when I got home,” Spanner said. “I did some shopping at Cross Court and the College Book Store, because my family wanted OU-themed gifts.”

Though the semester system has been beneficial to some businesses, it has negatively affected others.

Greg Cunningham, manager of Court Street Diner, said fewer people came to eat at the restaurant Jan. 1, one of the diner's busiest days of the year, than ever before.

On the quarter system, a large majority of students would come to Athens for New Year's Eve since school began just days later, but this year, fewer people were in town, which cut business down significantly, Cunningham said.

“We usually have a huge New Year's Day but are expecting virtually nothing this year,” Cunningham said. “A lot of our business comes from students and with them out of town, it definitely has had an impact.”

However, even though students and residents have had to adjust to the switch, Spanner said she looks forward to spending the holiday season in Athens again next year.

“I was bummed about having to be in school, but I feel like because everything was decorated and festive, it made it a lot more enjoyable to be there,” Spanner said. “I didn’t think it would feel like Christmas (in Athens), but I was happily surprised.”

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