In Towson, the college students are back, and so is business

With school back in session, Towson businesses are busy again

For shops and restaurants near Towson's colleges, the summer lull is over.

Classes have resumed at Towson University and Goucher College, re-energizing the nearby businesses, said Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Keith Scott.

"It creates a sense of optimism and hope," he said.

By one Towson University calculation, the college's students spend an average of $323 million on food, entertainment, health care, rentals, retail, transportation and utilities each year.

Towson certainly seems busier when school is back in session, said David Grossman, a professor of international business and marketing at Goucher.

"We've got students at Goucher who, like most college students, have discretionary income," Grossman said. "They're going to buy food, they're going to buy music, they're going buy clothing. I think when students are not around in the summer those stores suffer."

Coral Pross, a yoga teacher at Sid Yoga, on York Road, said the studio sees an increase in business when school is back in session. That's true for other Towson businesses, owners said.

Such is the case at Green Leaf Tobacco & Gifts, on Allegheny Avenue.

Students "want to buy all the things they need to deck out their dorm rooms," said Hannah Erwin, who works at the boutique, which sells tobacco, incense and other merchandise.

Cindy Brohawn, a manager at Plaza Art Materials and Picture Framing on York Road, who has worked at the store 24 years, said that business at the store spikes when school opens each fall.

"We get a lot of student business here," she said. "[We] definitely see a very big difference as it goes from summer to fall."

At Charles Village Pub & Patio, on Pennsylvania Avenue, general manager Nick Zahirsky said business definitely picks up in the fall, though custom remains good in the summer, with other community members coming in and the business hosting catered events, such as wedding receptions.

Goucher has 1,480 undergraduate students enrolled this year and 500 staff members, a spokeswoman said.

Towson University, the largest school in the area and one of Baltimore County's largest employers, has about 19,100 undergraduates and 3,200 graduate students, according to a university spokesman, Ray Feldmann.

In the coming years, Towson hopes to boost its enrollment from about 22,000 to 25,000 students, Feldmann said. The school recently opened two new resident halls that, combined, can house 700 students.

The growth at the university is connected to the broader growth and redevelopment of downtown Towson, said Towson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nancy Hafford.

"These students come, they need to eat, they need to survive, they need to buy clothes; we have all those things in walking distance," Hafford said.

According to the National Retail Federation, college students and families were expected to spend more on back-to-school items this year than last year, due to an increase in the number of consumers. Last year the college sector spent $43.1 billion on back-to-school shopping nationwide. This year students and families were expected to spend $48.5 billion.

Ten years ago, Hafford wouldn't have expected a business such as clothing store Boho Nation, on York Road, to be in Towson, she said.

There were vacancies in the area at that time, and businesses were wary about opening there, Hafford said. Urban Outfitters, which specializes in clothes aimed at younger adults, opened on York Road in 2011, showing that businesses suited to college students can be successful in Towson, according to Hafford.

Boho Nation, which sells clothes and accessories marketed to teenagers and adults as old as 65, opened in February, according to manager Melissa Bennett.

Business at the store this summer wasn't necessarily worse than during the school year, though foot traffic in the store and along York Road has definitely increased since school has been back in session, Bennett said. During the summer, more non-student customers stopped in, she added.

When business increases due to the student population, owners don't seem to have difficulty finding staff, Hafford said. In the summer, local students who attend colleges out of the area are home and able to fill jobs — then, when they leave to go back to college, Towson and Goucher students come in to take their places.

"It's cyclical," Hafford said.

That's exactly what happened at Boho Nation, according to Bennett, who manages a staff of five.

For Zahirsky, the general manager at Charles Village Pub, one of the challenges of working in a college town is being more than just a college bar. The restaurant gets a lot of business from local professionals, including those who work at large employers in the area such as the Baltimore County government. College students don't come out until 11 p.m., he said, and it's important to serve the broader community before then, then switch to serving the college crowd at night.

Towson University's new president, Kim Schatzel, who took office in January, but was inaugurated Sept. 16, hopes to build a strong working relationship with the business community, Feldmann said.

Towson's student population also helps fill positions created when the population increases during the school year.

Lorie Logan-Bennett, director of The Career Center at Towson University, said the school offers a variety of options to help students find jobs, including local jobs.

Particularly relevant to local businesses, or students seeking part-time employment, is the Part-Time and On-Campus Job Fair, which was held Aug. 30. This year, 65 employers attended the fair, along with between 800 and 1,200 students.

One challenge business owners can potentially face when students return is understanding and welcoming a diverse group of customers, Scott said. Noise from large groups of students can be a deterrent to other customers, so it is important for businesses to model good behaviors by being welcoming, he said.

"I think having an open, embracing attitude is a great way to role model that you're wanted or needed," Scott said. "Destructive behaviors could occur when [people are] not welcomed."

In September, Towson Town Center, on Dulaney Valley Road, began a policy stating customers younger than 18 will not be allowed in the mall after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays unless accompanied by an adult over the age of 21. That rule won't impact the majority of college students in the area.

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