June 12, 2020

Early fall semester start impacts Oxford businesses

Oxford’s annual influx of temporary residents will happen a little earlier this year.

Last Friday, June 5, Miami University President Gregory Crawford announced via email that the university was moving the start date of its fall semester up by one week, to Aug. 17.

The change was made due to the pandemic. Crawford announced in the email that the university is looking to eliminate travel back to the university after students have scattered across the country for Thanksgiving break. The schedule change also means classes will be completed the week before Thanksgiving, and all exams will be conducted remotely the week after. 

The spring semester of 2021 is scheduled to begin Jan. 25.

With classes starting a week earlier, Oxford gains an extra week of summer business with thousands of potential student customers in town. But it also means the local businesses lose those same customers, who would have begun the Christmas shopping season in town.

Businesses have suffered more than two months of hardship because students left town and most businesses were ordered to close by the state in mid-March because of COVID-19 restrictions. Businesses are now reopened, with some social distancing restrictions and having the students back in town a week early may take some of the pain away.

“We went from having a nine-month year with the students to six months with the students,” said Kelli Riggs, president of the Oxford Chamber of Commerce. “With the students coming a week early, that's going to bring a lot of upperclassmen back even earlier than that,” she said. Upperclassmen traditionally have returned to campus early to move into off-campus apartments.

High Street in Oxford, center of the town’s business district,  is mostly deserted since students left in mid-March. The early start of fall semesters means to street could soon be crowded with potential customers. Observer file photo

Riggs said the early return will have a huge impact on the local economy. As move in day is normally the Thursday before classes start, which will be Aug. 13 this year, the town can expect to start seeing students back in Oxford as early as the first week of August.

“It’s been a long hard couple of months, I truly miss my students,” said Ann Kamphaus, owner of Books & Brews, 107 E. Church St. Kamphaus has opened a patio at the restaurant and said she hopes that and other improvements will draw students to her business come August.

Riggs said the extended winter term will end up hurting local businesses again, however. She said this year there will not be too much Christmas shopping in the area by the students. “That's a big thing that our small businesses count on,” she said.

Andrew Amarantos, owner of Skippers Pub and Top Deck, 121 E High St., is more than excited for students to be back a week early, but still worries about the early end to the semester, “It looks like no December or January for Oxford. We don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said. Second to summer break, winter break is another tough time for businesses in town, now that it will be extended it may make the break even worse.

Amarantos normally closes up shop for two weeks during the winter break as business is much slower with students out of town, but this year it may have to be longer for the pub to survive, “There's got to be a method to your madness when running a business in a college town,” he said.

Nonetheless, Riggs believes that the small businesses in town will be able to weather the storm and succeed, but only with the help of the community and students, “We as a community just have to come together and come out more and continue to support our small businesses, to keep them thriving,” she said.

Normally, there’s “definitely a resurgence of energy” that comes with the students, said Jessica Greene, assistant city manager. The week of move-in sees “a really important shift in (the) economy,” as business ramps up for not just restaurants and hotels, but stores such as Kroger and ACE Hardware as well. With the week moved up, everyone “will be able to adapt really quickly,”, said Greene.

To help ease the burden of the past few months, Oxford City Council recently announced a two-part business stimulus plan: selling gift cards for local businesses, as a way to get cash into their hands quickly, and the implementation of a zero-interest loan program, to help businesses retain staff. The package is being handled through the city of Oxford Community Improvement Corporation.

It was “a relief” to know students were coming back, said Kim Daggy, executive director of Enjoy Oxford, the city’s visitors bureau. The university is a huge draw for tourism in the city, and the population drops down to about seven or eight thousand in the off months. Enjoy Oxford had a whole list of events planned for the summer, and while most of them can be moved online, such as some acts for the summer concert series, others have had to be canceled entirely, such as a soccer tournament.

A new event they’ve come up with is the Enjoy Oxford Summer Photo Challenge: participants can take photos, upload them to Facebook or Instagram, and tag Enjoy Oxford on both platforms. Two names will be randomly selected and receive a prize. Each month will have a different theme and categories; June’s is “the outdoors” and participants can snap shots of their backyards, sidewalk chalk art, or favorite student house name sign, for example.

For many students, the Oxford community is just as integral a part of their college experience as which classes they take or what clubs they join. Whether it be going to Bagel & Deli with friends, or hitting Top Deck for a fun Friday night out,  “You definitely tie these traditions with your experience,” said Daggy. Now, students will have seven fewer days to experience these traditions once again.