Influx of student, visitor spending boosts businesses
When senior Mia Wright from Tulsa, Okla., wants to eat out, she turns to Espress Yourself, Joy Garden or Walt's Pizza CafAnd when she needs that special gift, she looks to Discoveries first.
Wright is one of many Baker University students who shops locally when possible. For Baldwin City merchants, the payoff is huge thousands of outside dollars flow into the local economy from students, parents and visitors to the campus. With Baker's fall enrollment up 8 percent to 900 students, area businesses can expect to see an even greater impact this year.
Wright estimates she spends more than $120 a month for local amenities such as food, gas, and gifts.
"I like buying what I can in town," Wright said. "I think it's really convenient. The more stuff they make available to us here the less reason we have to go to Lawrence."
Senior Jennifer Ward from Topeka said she spends at least $60 a month at local establishments for such items as food, flowers, gas, and haircuts.
"The business people are all very helpful," Ward said. "People sometimes say things are more expensive here, but they're really not."
Former Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce President Brenda Day describes Baker as Baldwin City's anchor. She said Baker students greatly impact the community, because young people often have more disposable income to spend.
"I think fast food is particularly popular. The late night studying takes its toll," Day said jokingly. "They'll spend their money if there are places to spend it or they'll go elsewhere. I think businesses are doing a lot to attract college students."
One business that hopes to capture the student market is Espress Yourself, a new downtown coffee shop that offers soup, sandwiches and baked goods. Co-owners Trina Schartz and Stephanie Schmike purchased the coffee shop in late April.
"I just want to bring in the college crowd and see what we can do," Schartz said. "They'll bring a different ambiance than the early morning crowd, which is older."
Schartz said she plans to survey students to discover what hours they would be most interested in coming and what activities would attract them. Right now she is considering live music on weekends, open mic nights and game nights.
"I want the students to be a part of this coffee shop," Schartz said. "I'm all for what we can do to meet their needs."
Special events such as parent and alumni weekends as well as athletic and performing arts events bring thousands more people into Baldwin every year who stop to eat, buy gas, shop, and even stay.
"Obviously there's a market for visitors," Day said. "It's readily apparent in the community by the types of businesses that are cropping up. The Lodge is an example of that."
Sally Nixon, owner of Discoveries, a downtown gift store, said special event weekends bring in some new faces, but mostly those who have shopped there before.
"I have some alumni who always come in. One woman tells everybody they have to check out the store," Nixon said. "I'd love to see even more."