Summer exodus of students is not the end of downtown businesses

Strolling down 9th Street on a Wednesday afternoon, families passed with kids, older couples were out for a leisurely stroll, businesspeople hurried by on their lunch breaks and high schoolers enjoyed the first days of summer. But notably missing were college students, backpacks on back, hurrying toward class or enjoying the bustle of downtown Columbia.

“Before summer school starts up, it’s pretty quiet,” said Skip DuCharme, owner of Lakota Coffee Company.

Lakota is one of the many businesses that must adjust to the seasonal outflow of people during the summer months. DuCharme compensated by closing Lakota an hour earlier. He did not see the summer as having a negative impact on the company, though.

“Sale go down, but at the same time, it gives us an opportunity to get caught up on things we’ve been putting off,” he said.

As a college town, many Columbia businesses must make changes to compensate for fluctuations in sales during the summer months. Some, like Lakota, changed their hours. Others did not hire any more workers or scaled back the hours for those who stayed on in the summer.

While some businesses cut back on workers or hours, others do not see less business than at other times of the year. Some, such as ice cream shops and other seasonal businesses, have to compensate with more workers when summer comes around.

Amanda Rainey, who works at Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream, said that their business is balanced out by the warm summer weather that attracts more customers.

“We do a lot of business around graduation, and then we stay pretty busy,” Rainey said. “We see a lot of high schoolers and families. It’s something that families do in the summer.”

Down the street at Main Squeeze, employee Elaina Sullinger agreed that graduation weekend brought in the most customers. After that, business was about back to normal.

“When I was a customer here, it was usually pretty busy,” Sullinger said. And, helping keep business steady was the fact that “we have a lot of regulars.”

While a lot of Columbia businesses cater to students during the school year, having a strong customer base in Columbia kept them from being affected by the departure of students in the summer months.

Over at Get Lost Bookshop, Amy Stephenson quietly read as customers browsed the extensive selection of books. She noted that the departure of college students did not really affect business and that they keep plenty busy during the summer.

For businesses that did see a change, outreach is an important option to try to keep sales up. Summer months are often spent expanding the local customer base and preparing for the return of students in the fall.

In the cool interior of Peace Nook, Tyler Krueger helps a customer purchase the book she ordered. He notes that since there are fewer people in town, business is down a bit in the summer.

“We do our best to get people in,” Krueger said. “We rely on our customer base that’s native in Columbia.”

Whether sales go up or down, the departure of so much of the population affects most businesses in Columbia. However, there are still plenty of families, couples and even college students to give businesses their patronage.

Back at Lakota, the smell of roasting coffee beans permeated the air as the employees settled into the routine of a quieter summer before students return to Columbia in the fall.

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