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Local Businesses Prepare For Returning Penn State Students

by on January 11, 2015 6:00 AM

There are some cycles in nature that can’t be escaped, only prepared for.

The change in the seasons is one. The return of Penn State students at the beginning of a new semester is another, rushing into State College like a high tide of economic power.

John Lindo – owner of the Student Book Store downtown – is preparing to stand against this tide as Penn State students flood into town this weekend for the start of the spring semester on Monday. Within the first week of classes, he anticipates an incredible 20,000 customers will flow through his store.

Despite the sheer number of people he expects to see, he’s not too worried.

“This store has been here for 45 years, so there’s a routine that we’ve gotten used to,” Lindo says. “We know what the deal is.”

Since Christmas, Lindo says “virtually no one” has been in the store. Despite how slow the winter break has been, Lindo says the past few weeks have been more challenging in their own way than next week is likely to be.

About two-thirds of the store’s employees are students that have been out of town, leaving only 25 employees to prepare for the coming onslaught of business. Lindo and his full-time staff – who “don’t really get a big winter break” – have had to ensure that their book selection is fully stocked for an immense range of classes and subjects.

Rentals from last semester had to be checked in and reprocessed, web orders have had to finalized, additional help had to be found and the store's apparel and memorabilia sections had to be restocked.

“Each year, I always worry that we’re not ready, but it always turns out that we are,” Lindo says. “Things tend to fall into place.”

Other local businesses have been gearing up as well. John Briggs, general manager of the Corner Room, says the iconic restaurant’s business will more than double once the students return.

Briggs explains that students do drive a lot of business in the town, but other people associated with the university are also a huge customer base. As the students arrive, many Penn State faculty and staff members will also return from vacation and bring their business back to local restaurants and shops.

“Shifting gears can be a little bit of a challenge,” Briggs says. “You become a little lackadaisical after serving only 100 or so people a night. To jump to 300 or 400 all at once can be tough.”

He’s not too worried though; help is on the way. With the returning students, Briggs will be reunited with 30 returning student employees. That will give him the manpower to run shifts with additional servers, hosts and cooks, giving the Corner Room the edge it needs to meet the coming demand.

While many businesses go through a boom-and-bust business cycle as students come and go, others maintain a steadier flow of customers.

“We do slow down some over break, but it’s not as significant as it is for other places,” says Elaine Meder-Wilgus, owner of Webster’s Bookstore and Café. “We have a good mix of customer demographics.”

Though her business has seen plenty local residents and grad students over break, no one can escape the economic impact of the big student return.

Once they’re back in town, Meder-Wilgus says the performances and other events the café hosts will have increased attendance – which in turn means more people will be browsing the books and buying coffee. She also adds that the first week of the semester will bring students to her store in search of textbooks and course materials, which she does her best to provide.

“I really appreciate the beginning of the semester,” Meder-Wilgus says. “Everyone is so full of hope and excitement, and you can really feed on that energy.”

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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