Daily Egyptian

Businesses feel effects of SIU’s low enrollment

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Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Gabby Pettyjohn

Following a decades-long enrollment decline, SIU’s student population this year decreased by nearly nine percent from last fall, according to university officials.

Local businesses are starting to feel the effects.

“This past year has probably been one of the worst we’ve seen in years,” said Rick Reeve, the owner of Shawnee Trails Outfitters. “This January was probably the worst January we’ve ever had.”

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Reeve said his revenue has consistently dropped along with enrollment over the 36 years he has been in Carbondale.

“When you remove up to 9,000 students from your customer base, that’s huge,” Reeve said. “We have had at least a 25 percent decrease in gross sales.”

William Lo, the general manager at New Kahala, echoed his sentiment.

“We definitely have noticed a drop in revenue compared to the last few years,” Lo said. “It’s not just students — with less enrollment comes fewer professors and other support staff. The impact adds up … this summer was probably the worst we’ve seen it in the last ten years.”

Lo said when there are fewer people in Carbondale, local businesses are on their own.

“All the business owners are concerned about the drop in enrollment, it affects our ability to grow and function as a local business,” Lo said. “We do not have the financial backing of a large corporation to wait out the effects of decreased enrollment.”

Some businesses owners attributed the steady enrollment decline to the city’s attempts to rein in Carbondale’s big party weekends like Unofficial Halloween. For 15 years, city officials placed restrictions on the weekend following violent riots and property damage in 2000.

The university also prepares for the weekend by restricting visitors in residence halls during Unofficial, Polar Bear and Solar Bear.

Business owners say this has diminished the party school draw of SIU.

“SIU is a really good school, it’s a beautiful area, but it used to be known nationally as a good school to go to because of the social life,” said Mike Ricci, owner of Mike’s Music.

Lo said instead of trying to contain the parties, the university should focus on making them safer.

“College students will party regardless of what SIU says,” Lo said. “Why don’t we focus on letting them party safer and providing a better education?  That will be the biggest draw.”

Josie Arnett | @josiearnett

Ricci, who has run his business for 24 years, said business was booming at the university’s peak.

“At its height, there were about 22,000 students in Carbondale,” Ricci said. “About ten percent would definitely come into the store. Now there’s about 12,000 students on campus, and 10 percent of that number is a lot smaller of a number than 10 percent of 22,000.”  

Bryan Woodrough, part-owner of Traxx bar, said if the university goes, local businesses will go with it.

“The college is the biggest boost for business in this town,” Woodrough said. “So anytime you see the numbers go down you have to get worried.”

Lo and Woodrough said the university and Carbondale need to work in conjunction to get SIU’s enrollment back up.

“You have to make an atmosphere for students to want to be here, and Carbondale doesn’t really have much to offer, entertainment-wise,” Woodrough said.

Reeve said one of the best ways for SIU to increase enrollment would be creating stability within university administration.  

“There is such a constant turnover of leadership that nothing can get accomplished,” Reeve said. “Those in positions of power should not treat their job as a stepping stone to something better, but should actually care about SIU and want to be here.”

Some local businesses have had to make changes to remain open despite the lack of customers.

“As students have started to leave we’ve had to shift to doing more online sales because of the lack of foot traffic coming into the store,” Ricci said.

Reeve said his store has cut down on both stock and employees, going from six workers to one.

“It sucks because if you don’t have something people are looking for they will be more likely to go online,” Reeve said. “Or they’ll go somewhere else that does have it.”

Staff writer Gabby Pettyjohn can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @gpettyjohn98.

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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