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The CI bar in Athens, Ohio on Court Street in October 25, 2022.

Uptown businesses see decrease of customers in summer

As students wave goodbye to campus for the summer, Court Street business owners gear up for the vast decrease in customers. 

Business owners and managers now have downtime to train new employees, create new ideas for the upcoming semester and take time off. Some businesses open with new hours, make fewer shipments and focus on renovating the store. 

However, June is the one month that keeps businesses steadily afloat as incoming students and their families come to Ohio University for Bobcat Student Orientation, or BSO, Gene Armes, the general manager of the College Book Store, said. 

“Orientation has turned the month of June into an important month for our store as we try to make a good impression on these families,” Armes wrote in an email.

The bookstore has extra hours during June specifically for BSO, and it offers promotions that directly target families. College Book Store curated a special for Ohio University t-shirts that say OU Mom, Dad or Grandparents for only $5, in hopes it will attract incoming families, Armes said.

However, July and the beginning of August are the slowest times for the bookstore, Armes said. During this time, he focuses on preparing his store for the upcoming school year. 

“We spend the summertime doing any work that might need to be done on our store such as painting, cleaning or building new displays while the traffic is slower in our building,” Armes wrote in an email. “We also try to recruit new workers for the fall via social media or directly on our website if we have vacancies due to people graduating or not wanting to return for work for the next term.”

Court Street Coffee owner, Deborah Fulks, changed her hours at her Court Street location to close at 5 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. 

“Business drops about 50%,” Fulks said. “A lot of employees are students, so a lot of them are gone for the summer anyway, and then the ones that stay usually work out to cover what we need.” 

To prepare for the fall semester, Court Street Coffee works on creating future schedules, stocking up on supplies and maintaining a presence on social media, Fulks said. 

Fulks said more locals are inclined to come to the uptown location because parking is not as much of an issue in the summer.

“Athens uptown is not parking friendly it's actually the opposite,” Fulks said. “I really would like to take (this) issue with the mayor. It's just really unfortunate that it keeps people from coming uptown.”

Similarly, David Cornwell, owner of The J Bar, Courtside Pizza and North End Bar and Grille, said he notices more full-time Athens residents coming to his businesses during the summer due to increased parking and fewer students. 

“There's not as many students roaming around, so they feel like it's a little easier for parking, to get in and get out of places when in all truthfulness, there's always room for locals to come uptown,” Cornwell said. 

Cornwell said he takes the opportunity of the slower business in the summer to prioritize deep cleaning his bars. He also focuses on adjusting liquor shipments and schedule changes.  

The summer also helps transition and train new employees as many students graduate and leave their jobs at the bars, Cornwell said. 

Cornwell also runs student rental businesses that require students to pay rent during the summer months; however, many of those buildings are vacant until the beginning of the Fall Semester. Before COVID-19, he added, many students lived in his rental properties year-round. 

He suggested the university play a part in helping increase the number of students staying in Athens during the summer. Businesses on Court Street play a big part in enrollment, and when incoming students visit in the summer, they’ll see empty storefronts and may be less interested, he explained.

“Court Street is basically the entrance to the university, so if it looks poor, that looks poorly on the university,” Cornwell said.

Local businesses and the university must coexist, and if they do so, then there will be positive results for both parties, Cornwell said. 

“It's not good for our town because (businesses) literally have to make (their) numbers in an eight-month span, which for a lot of businesses that's not very easy to do,” Cornwell said.


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