University-based businesses prepare for winter break

While students and faculty alike prepare to take a four-week hiatus from the stresses and rigors of university life and schoolwork, businesses near campus are bracing for a month-long business hit as their main customers head home.

While local Tucsonans shop at stores by the University of Arizona, the majority of the customers at these businesses are students from the college.

The businesses that usually take the biggest hit are located within walking distance of the university’s campus on Fourth Avenue and University Boulevard. As a result of its proximity, these two streets have not only become a popular place for students to shop, but have become a popular social destination for students at the University of Arizona.

“The reason that I shop on University Boulevard is because it’s within walking distance,” said Zoe Webman, a freshman at the UA.

Webman, like the majority of freshmen who live on-campus, does not have a car. While this limits her possible destinations to spend her free time, these streets are appealing because, “We don’t have to find transportation,” Webman said.

Another draw to these streets is a mix between unique shops and corporate chains specifically designed to target students.

“I love shopping at Urban Outfitters, but I also like the little shops next to it,” said Erin Shanahan, a freshman at the UA.

Molly Williamson, a sophomore at the UA, believes that students are targeted as the main customers of businesses close to campus. This makes it an environment specifically designed for college students.

“I really like it because of the environment…there is a lot of live music,” Williamson said. “Also, the clothing at these stores appeal to our age group as opposed to older people. The bars on university and fourth, a lot of students like to go there.”

Shanahan agrees with this assumption, saying, “Tucson is a college town and the shopping is right next to the university. As a result, most of the clothes appeal to younger people.”

Many of the businesses on these streets do not attempt to hide their intention of targeting college students. To them, the proximity of their businesses to campus requires them to sell products that appeal to the college students.

However, if the stores target business from college students, they have to anticipate business hits during the time periods when students are not in town.

Nazari Chappotin, a manager at Campus Candy, which is located right on University Boulevard, said, “We always anticipate lower hours and lower profits during the winter. Since we know this, we have more events going on during the school year as opposed to during extra time.”

Amy Jesionowski, who is the owner of Collette, a clothing store that recently opened on University Boulevard, has yet to experience a winter break. However, she heard from other shop-owners that, “Winter break is worse for sales. I assume business will go way down.”

Characterized by many businesses as “extra time,” the upcoming winter break has forced a lot of businesses to take preventative measures to make sure they cut profit losses during the absence of university students.

“We have it in our business plan that we aren’t going to make money during extra time,” Chappotin said. “That means we don’t expect to make money during the winter and summer.”

Terra Schacht, the owner of The Cereal Boxx, which is located right off University Boulevard, has accepted the fact that her business will lose money over the break. She estimates that her business will experience a 65 percent decrease in profits over winter break alone.

“There is nothing you can do to combat 30,000 people leaving town just like that,” Schacht said. “The only thing you can really do is bulk sales up during the school months. We usually cut costs by closing for ten days during winter break.”

However, for many stores, acceptance is not a viable business plan. These stores become more creative with ways of making sure they don’t lose money during extra time.

“While there may be less shoppers out during holiday season, they tend to be shoppers who are purchasing and our numbers have been better then during the other times of the year,” said Gaby Miller, the owner of Cry Baby Couture, located on University Boulevard.

“We try to be as a prepared as possible with the right kind of inventory that is selling or that will be likely to sell with the type of customer that will be coming through,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, other stores do not need to make any changes to business models, as their inventory appeals to more than just college students.

Shane Barela, the owner of The Scented Leaf on University Boulevard, sells both tea and perfumes in his store. The tea appeals to students, while the perfumes appeal to older people.

“In terms of tea, students are my main customers,” Barela said. “For perfumes and oils, it’s people between the ages of 25-40. I’d say 70 percent women and 30 percent men.”

This allows Barela to not lose any business during “extra time.”

In his opinion, Barela believes that, “Over winter break, college kids go away and non-students enjoy the parking.”

However, Barela believes there might be another reason for the students’ small impact on his store. “College kids are laggers in terms of business,” Barela said. “They are word of mouth buyers, meaning they buy stuff based off what other people say is good.”

Despite this idea that students are “trend” consumers, they still realize the impact that they have on the local economy. They, like owners, anticipate a drop in sales during winter break.

Williamson believes that stores can survive the month-long hiatus, but they need to change their clientele in order to continue to make profits.

“I know the residence halls close over break, so the Tucson communities have to be the ones responsible for keeping those stores in tact,” Williamson said.

And if stores are genuinely suffering, they can remember that is only a temporary problem.

Webman put it best, saying, “Their business will take a hit, but it will only be for a month.”

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 205: Reporting the News class.