Business community cashes in on influx of college students


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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — College students shopping with their families at big-box stores for futons and small refrigerators will be a common sight this week.

Restaurants, hotels and retailers are eager for the arrival of roughly 2,000 freshmen University of Notre Dame students who will move into dorms on Friday. Freshmen students will also move in soon at Holy Cross College and Saint Mary's College — both near Notre Dame's campus — along with Bethel College in Mishawaka and Indiana University South Bend.

Freshmen Notre Dame students and their families — hailing from across the country — often spend a handful of days at hotels to prepare for the transition, said Rob DeCleene, executive director of Visit South Bend Mishawaka, the county's visitors bureau. That gives them extra time to shop for dorm items and dine at restaurants. In other words, families tend to put their wallets to use.

"It's a very big impact on local hotels, restaurants, shops and big-box stores," DeCleene said.

The Mishawaka Target store on University Drive, for example, has already drawn lots of freshmen Notre Dame students and their families this week and is expected to be swamped by Friday, said Lyndsey Hover, store manager. When it comes to the kickoff of college in August, she said, the store is one of Target's top-performing locations in the country because of Notre Dame students who travel "from coast to coast" to the area.

"We've taken calls from California, New Hampshire and New York. Their strategy is generally to converge in Indiana to shop," Hover said. "We see one of the highest sales lifts in the country because of where they're coming from and how they buy."

Big items that are challenging to travel with are especially popular. Hundreds of futons, for example, are expected to be sold this week, Hover said. Storage containers and small refrigerators are also hot items.

For hoteliers, the student influx translates into a sharp climb in booked rooms. During the August weekend that Notre Dame freshmen moved in last year, the average occupancy rate — or number of rooms occupied — was nearly 90 percent of the county's roughly 4,100 hotel rooms, according to the visitors bureau. The average occupancy rate for that entire month, by contrast, was 67 percent.

The 150-room Morris Inn on Notre Dame's campus is always fully booked during the back-to-college period in August, said Joseph Kurth, director and general manager of the inn. While academic conferences and other events help fill rooms during the summer, he said, "students and their families drive nine months of the year for us, from August to the end of May."

Parents of first-time students often want to familiarize themselves with the area before they leave, Kurth said, and they commonly ask for directions to local stores and restaurants. "They want to be comfortable in the community, and spending an extra day here can certainly influence the retailers and restaurants."

Freshmen students represent just a slice of the overall student population at Notre Dame, which had nearly 8,500 undergraduate students and about 3,800 graduate students last year.

Restaurants surrounding Notre Dame's campus tend to pick up a lot of traffic in August from freshmen college students and their families. Strong crowds are expected this week at Taphouse on the Edge in South Bend, said co-owner Jeff Morauski. The restaurant, on South Bend Avenue near Notre Dame's campus, is a popular hangout spot for students.

"Students moving in will definitely have a solid impact for us, and we expect to see an increase in sales," Morauski said. "This is the time when our weekends start picking up and stay solid until students leave campus in May."

Along with the student body, Morauski said, special events in and around Notre Dame's campus ensure the restaurant remains busy until students leave campus in May. "I think everyone on this side of town will agree that sales decrease when students leave and there's nothing going on," he said.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, http://bit.ly/2bCRGVj

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the South Bend Tribune.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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