Summer’s Student Exodus Is Bittersweet

IMG_4777Going anywhere near downtown Corvallis 5 to 10 years ago used to be, well, let’s just say, “a walk in the park.” Particularly in the summer months, the roads were deserted, restaurant tables were open, and getting on a bike didn’t mean dodging drivers playing Pokémon Go. But several weeks into the 2016 summer season, it’s obvious things have changed. Parking spots are scarce, rents have skyrocketed, and Monroe Avenue is still a no-go during daytime hours for most non-students.

Corvallis used to owe its summer silence to the student exodus, the period right around mid-June when Oregon State University loses most of its students as they flock back to their hometowns. As a college town whose population of just under 60,000 is one-half students, the switch in seasons can signal a fairly drastic change for local business activity.

The amount of people that Corvallis has been doing business with has been steadily increasing for quite a while now. The 2000 census put the Corvallis population at 49,322, and in 2010 it was 54,462. In July of 2015, the Portland Research Center estimated that the amount of people in Corvallis was 57,390, indicating a much faster rate of increase over the last five years.

With OSU counting for half the population, it’s worth paying attention to their steady enrollment flow. In the early 2000s, OSU kept their fall term enrollment increase between 0.5 and 3%. But from 2008 to 2009, fall enrollment jumped by 8%, which is just below 2,000 new students. The past few years have not been as drastic, and fell to an increase of below 2.5%.

So when local business owners say recent years haven’t been so bad, the data speaks for itself.

Scott Givens of Browser’s Books claims that he usually breaks even in the summer months, due to a change in demand. “The students that do stay in town can now read what they want to read, so that combined with the loss of business from textbook sales, we don’t go up or down.”

But while leisure book sales rise in summer, some movie sales fall—at least for those that aren’t big summer blockbusters. Paul Turner from the Darkside Cinema reported needing to cut hours for all his employees. Their customers aren’t usually students, but rather the “Oregon State support staff.”

Popular student spots near campus like Interzone and American Dream Pizza perhaps see the most change in foot traffic during the summer. Owner of Interzone Bill McCanless reports a drop off of around 30 to 35%, forcing him to shift closing time from midnight to 10 p.m. Both Interzone and American Dream would need to cut staffing if it wasn’t for the many student employees who either graduate or get summer internships out of town.

Let’s keep in mind, Corvallis is more than OSU, and there are businesses to show for it. For example, Cycletopia, the Golden Crane, and Happy Trails Records are all longstanding shops that aren’t so much impacted by the student exodus, and actually see an influx in customers.

Ruby Moon, who opened up the Golden Crane in 1980, claims that her “best business over the summer comes from out of town,” that her sales pick up, and she’ll even stay open later. The same goes for Mike Easter’s business, Cycletopia, which is going on 21 years in Corvallis. Aside from an annual dip in August for vacation time, they have enough of a regular ridership to stay just as active in the summer months.

Imagine Coffee owners Marlene McDonald and Barb Langton are just as thankful for their loyal customers who make up for a slightly slower pace. Having been open only since 2011 while being longtime Corvallis residents, their relationship with the exodus is “a love-hate thing.”

Regardless of who’s losing business, most everyone agrees that the drop off this summer is nowhere near as significant as it has been in the past. Cindee Lolik of the First Alternative Co-op especially pointed this out in reference to their business activity. People gotta eat.

The common denominator in most everyone’s impression about the summer is this: Corvallis is getting crowded. From the traffic to the housing complexes to the noise, the town is not slowing down. Which is why Moon’s response to whether or not she likes this season more than others is so relatable. “Who doesn’t?” she asks. “It’s more like the old Corvallis again.”

By Gina Pieracci