Words by Jennifer Smith & Photos by Ygal Kaufman
Traditionally, Corvallis loses about 20,000 students every summer when they return home. This drop in population has to create a drop in revenue for the businesses around Corvallis, yet they don’t seem too worried.
Some businesses do notice a drop in sales, but for many it’s only a slight one because students make up a smaller percentage of sales than what their swarming nature suggests. The other trend seems to be that many students are no longer leaving for the whole summer as our tough rental housing market has made retaining one’s abode more desirable.
“Summers are definitely slower at Imagine Coffee, and some of this is probably due to fewer students. But all in all, students seem to provide a rather small percentage of our total sales income,” said Imagine co-owner George Taylor.
This is rather surprising for a coffee shop, which would appear to depend on students in study mode for a good deal of their traffic. It’s just they get the bulk of their actual sales from the more established permanent residents.
Some businesses notice a decrease in sales within certain parts of their business, especially the ones that do business directly with OSU. The ping-pong ball and Solo plastic cup economy basically shuts down for the summer session. But fine dining and other restaurants and bakeries seem to shrug off whatever dip in business there is.
“We don’t notice much of a difference at our downtown store due to the fact that students don’t currently make up a very large percentage of our customer base. We do notice a reduction in catering on campus, as well as a very large impact of the volume that our wholesale accounts sell on campus during the summer,” said Tristan James, owner and manager of New Morning Bakery.
Some even see business increase.
“The downtown American Dream generally sees a significant jump in business with the advent of spring and through summer. We have a very nice outdoor rooftop seating area and with the younger kids out of school we find folks make it a priority to dine-out for lunch. This is our busiest time of the year,” said Mark O’Brien, part owner of American Dream Pizza.
Summer tourists also play a role in the increase of sales.
“Frankly, we find that the Beaver exodus is made up for by two factors: The increase in leisure time, a.k.a. reading time, by those students and the significant number of OSU staff and faculty remaining; and the increase in tourism. Corvallis is a cute little town that has much to offer even when OSU is not in session. We find that spending an hour in a bookstore with narrow aisles partially blocked by stacks of old books is an exciting and rewarding experience for bibliophiles, and we see a lot more of our distant customers, especially out-of-staters who only come once a year,” said Scott Givens from Browsers’ Bookstore.
Some businesses make little changes during the summer to help make sure that their sales stay consistent.
“Obviously we reduce our bake size significantly; otherwise there is little difference,” Tristan James said.
Other businesses do need to change up their scenery to entice summer customers.
“We have transformed a former storage room into an open-air seating environment which is very pleasant on warm summer days. This has been a welcome change for many customers, not just students. In our main space we have air conditioning, so a customer can choose, in essence, indoor or outdoor seating,” said Taylor of Imagine’s strategy.
Corvallis’ population is increasing every year, and businesses are not hurting as much as they used to as students now make up one-third of the population.
“From what I understand, the summer revenue drop off is less dramatic than in years past” said Cloud Davidson, General Manager of Red Fox Café.
Besides the slight change in inventory and rearranging of furniture, it looks like Corvallis won’t have to consider importing robot consumers from China to patronize our shops and turn Corvallis into a nightmare vision out of Westworld… yet.