Merchants weather summer slump

By Kelly Sampson

Arizona Summer Wildcat

When the student population plummets from 35,000 during the spring and fall to about 10,000 in the summer, campus-area merchants know they can do little more than wait out the slow season and look forward to the return of vacationing students and staff in the fall.

Area merchants, such as Mort Edberg, half owner of Landmark Clothing and Shoes at 876 E. University Blvd., accept the fact that summer is a waiting game. But if you can hold out through the summers, you will be well rewarded in the fall.

"You do the best you can, but anyone who thinks they are going to be as busy in the summer as they are in the winter is nuts," Edberg said.

The good news is that most campus-area merchants said that summer business continues to improve each year.

Nevertheless, sales this summer dropped between 30 to 60 percent from the winter, several area merchants said.

Perhaps an aggressive advertising campaign, bigger sales or more enticing specials could lure in customers?

Merchants say no, not really. There simply are not enough customers to go around in the summer and there is no avoiding that simple fact.

The hardest hit are generally the restaurants, cafes and coffee houses that dot the perimeter of the campus on all sides. These businesses depend more heavily on students than most others in the area.

This is why Melissa Manning, manager of Himalayan Imports, 831 N. Park Ave., said her store suffers less in the summer than many of her neighbors. Only about 50 percent of her customers are students, she said. Others come out of their way to shop at the store, she said, because it offers specialty items found nowhere else in Tucson, such as imported clothing, jewelry and statuettes. They do no come just because they are on campus, which is the case for many of the area businesses.

Those who do depend heavily on student customers have opted, in many cases, to shorten their business hours and hope it will help cut their losses.

At Kippy's Hamburgers and Things, 831-C N. Park Ave., it is often standing-room only during the school year. The owners there have not officially shortened their hours of operation.

"We stay until the business ends," owner Len Hines said. But that is usually two to three hours before the posted closing time, he said.

Business at Kippy's has dropped at least 60 percent from the winter, Hines said. In fact, for the summer, Kippy's has no "employees." The student-employees who worked there during the school year have gone home for the summer. Hines and his family are running the business alone until fall. They could not afford to pay anyone during the summer, he said.

Just around the corner from Kippy's, Pony Espresso, 911 E. University Blvd., has simply had to slash its hours, especially on the weekends, which are "absolutely dead," employee Brendan Hickman said.

Cafe Paraiso, with its prominent location at 800 E. University Blvd., in the Gerominoz complex, is weathering the summer better than many. Rose Easterbrook, who opened the cafe about 18 months ago, said her business is down,

but only about 30 percent.

"We are not discouraged at all," she said. She added that this summer has been better than the last.

And for merchants on the western edge of campus, future summers may look brighter still.

Construction on a five-story administration building on North Euclid Avenue between University Boulevard and Second Street will be completed soon.

Bob Preble, project manager for the new building, said that the 17 administrative departments to be housed in the building will begin moving in at the end of October. Some of those departments include human resources, parking and transportation, and financial services.

This influx of potential customers just west of campus has many merchants looking up, even while facing another six to seven weeks of slow summer sales.

Hines said that he looks forward to having more UA staff working nearby. Campus staff are his most loyal and steady customers. These are the people who keep Kippy's afloat in the summer, he said. They come in every day for lunch and don't flee in the face of soaring summer temperatures.

Read Next Article