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Local vendors find business in students’ absence

Some Merchants on Points vendors have seen a decline in business without students on campus, but many other businesses continue to thrive.
Some Merchants on Points vendors have seen a decline in business without students on campus, but many other businesses continue to thrive.

In the summer months, with a vast decrease in the number of students in town, certain area businesses find themselves reeling with the loss of a large portion of their patrons.

Durham businesses have a large, built-in clientele that comes in the form of Duke students from the months of August to May. During the summer months, however, venues on the Merchants on Points program experience a significant decline in business.

“I’ve noticed a decline over the last couple of weeks,” Green Tango general manager Erin Boggs-Thompson said.

In the summer months, with a vast decrease in the number of students in town, certain area businesses find themselves reeling with the loss of a large portion of their patrons.

Many merchants have begun to market their brands all over Durham through city publications and community outreach in the hope of attracting new customers.

“We work with a lot of the people that do a lot of the runs,” Catherine Williams, a Cinelli’s employee, said. “There is a breast cancer walk coming up, and we get our names posted along wherever they walk.”

Williams added that Cinelli’s has purchased advertising space in magazines and other Durham-area publications.

Although Merchants on Points venues struggle to attract business during the summer months, other restaurants develop more of a local group of consumers that helps ease the loss of Duke student business.

“Some [Durham residents] come out because they know it’s not going to be too busy,” Mt. Fuji Manager John Tang said. “When students are here, it’s ridiculously busy.”

Although the absence of Duke students might make Durham residents more likely to go to restaurants, Durham attractions like the American Dance Festival, games at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and shows at the Durham Performing Arts Center help bring out even more customers.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say that Durham’s overall economy suffers when Duke is not in session,” Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield said. “The American Dance Festival lasts about six weeks—that brings quite a bit of additional activity to the area.... DPAC events tend to create a steady stream.”

Bonfield noted that there have been half a million patrons at DPAC over the past year. “Wicked,” the Broadway musical, alone has sold approximately 90,000 tickets.

“Pretty much any night there is an event at DPAC, you can rest assured that all of the restaurants in the downtown are full both before the show and after the show,” Bonfield said. “We have had so many new restaurants and bars open up in the downtown area and a good portion of that is attributable to the amount of people the DPAC is bringing to the area.”

This summer’s World Cup in South Africa is also bringing customers to Durham venues.

“[The World Cup] really helps our lunch out a lot because the games are being played at lunch time,” Alan Phillips, a Chamas employee, said. “Pretty much all the Brazilians in the area come and watch whenever Brazil plays here, [so] they can come be around all Brazilians and cheer for their team.”

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