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Winter is coming, but local businesses are ready

Though Chapel Hill businesses see a decrease in revenue as students go home for winter break, it is mediated by an increase in patronage by local families.
Though Chapel Hill businesses see a decrease in revenue as students go home for winter break, it is mediated by an increase in patronage by local families.

As the stress of finals week concludes and UNC students leave town, Chapel Hill businesses will look to permanent residents to fill their shops and restaurants. 

Katie Loovis, vice president for external affairs at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, said the total economic impact of winter break is felt most strongly by restaurants and retail but is less extreme than one may think. 

Although roughly 30,000 students leave for the break, Loovis said many University faculty, hospital staff and international students stay in town, meaning Chapel Hill shops continue to serve a large customer base. 

“Business owners are smart and they plan for that, and the Downtown Partnership is doing quite a bit throughout the holiday season to promote shopping local," she said. "So I think there’s a lot of effort of make sure that businesses, especially our small, local businesses, can thrive."

Dwight Bassett, Chapel Hill’s economic development officer, said businesses’ success over the break is related to their location and resulting customer base. 

“Businesses located on the Blue Hill District or at Eastgate shopping center may depend more on residents versus the convenience of students walking across from campus,” he said.

Some businesses may work together to offer sales over winter break that attract more customers, Loovis said. 

Chad Bohley, general manager at Lotsa, said the Franklin Street pizza place would continue its lunch special through the holiday season, but the restaurant will close at 9 p.m. in anticipation of fewer late-night guests. 

Bohley said when Lotsa opened in August, management knew from experience business would slow during breaks: nine of the company’s 10 locations are located on college campuses. 

Lotsa relies heavily on students for its staff and structures hiring with breaks in mind. Bohley said one of his first acts as general manager was to hire a mix of college kids and regular staff. 

“When college ends and those students go home, our regular staff can work more hours,” he said. “It’s all about a balance.”

Sup Dogs owner Bret Oliverio agrees late-night business declines with the exception of New Year’s Eve, but said he doesn’t have trouble filling the restaurant otherwise. 

“Obviously business falls off slightly with students out of town, but with that comes sort of the heart of basketball season, so we’re still able to stay busy lunch and dinners with families and with people coming to Sup Dogs before and after the games, and watching the games as well,” he said.

Oliverio said he sees winter break as a time to win over new customers who don't usually come to Franklin Street when students pack the most popular shops. 

“Something I’ve found is there’s a lot of families that, during the school year, don’t want to battle the chaos that is Franklin Street," he said. "So we will see a ton of families that we normally don’t see during the school year that come out to visit Sup Dogs regardless of the game over winter break and over summer as well.”

Oliverio said the slower pace means he can concentrate even more on impressing every customer who comes to Sup Dogs. 

“We’re generally able to provide good service and a good product, but as the volume drops, we’re able to really give everyone 110 percent attention,” he said.

Students are part of a thriving economy and can affect businesses with their spending choices before they leave, Loovis said. 

“If (students) enjoy walking down Franklin Street, then get really involved and shop there too,” she said. “When they get back from holiday break, just know the community business centers are welcoming them back and receiving them.”

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