School is back in session and the recent influx of college students has had a major impact on the community, especially when it comes to local businesses. As Richmond is a college-focused town, much of the local commerce revolves around EKU and the traffic brought in by university students.
One local establishment that benefits from the business college students bring in is Burgher Burger. This restaurant is one of two locations, originating in Erwin, Pennsylvania – hence the name – offers a variety of burgers, sandwiches and appetizer options as well as a full bar.
Having only recently opened downtown on Feb. 18 of this year, Burgher Burger is new to the Richmond area. Part-owner, Matthew Yeast, said that the location’s dependency on student traffic came as quite a surprise.
“We actually hit towards the last part of the semester before summer started,” Yeast said. “So now that summer is back and students are back, we’re definitely seeing an increase in sales and traffic. I did not realize that this location, and downtown in general basically lives and dies by the students.”
Yeast said the biggest challenge the restaurant faced over the summer was the sheer drop in customer numbers.
“Just trying to make sure the lights stay on and that everyone gets paid and things like that,” Yeast said. “Without the increased revenue, you can’t advertise as much… We need butts in seats, that’s what I always say.”
To adapt to this, Yeast said the main thing the restaurant did was try to reduce their spending as much as possible.
“We cut labor, we cut hours, you watch what you purchase, stuff like that. You know, just operating and trying to streamline things,” Yeast said. “The busier you are, the easier it is to control everything.”
Burgher Burger is available to students through their downtown location as well as through the Colonel Delivery system. They offer a daily lunch special from 11 p.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday as well as happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day and kids eat for free on Monday nights. They have an online menu and more information at burgherburger.com.
The restaurant and bar will soon be opening up a back room with games like pool tables, darts and video games.
“That’s coming up in a few weeks,” Yeast said. “We’re trying to get the families out here and, the people that just want to drink, keep them in the back.”
They are open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and have recently extended their hours to be open on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the football season.
“We’re going to go through the NFL season and see how it works,” Yeast said. “If it makes sense we’re going to keep doing it. But there might be a reason that Main Street is closed on Sundays so, we’ll see.”
Another similar business that has been affected by the changing school year is Four Sisters Soap and Tea Emporium. The local business began as a soap and lotion shop. However, they began selling tea from the back of the store and have since evolved into a storefront with a full-scale restaurant in the back; complete with an extensive coffee and tea menu, meals and a wine and liquor bar.
Originally located downtown as well, Four Sisters moved to the Richmond Mall on Nov. 1, 2018. Owner, Melody Lincavage said though the move was hard on them at first, they have since blossomed into a much bigger and more productive business.
“We were invested in downtown and we would’ve loved to have a location downtown,” Lincavage said. “We looked for quite a while, but this turned out really, really good. There was nothing back here, this was a complete warehouse; it was three times the size. We went from 600 square feet to just under 2,000. This was just completely empty.”
Lincavage and her family are originally farmers from Germany. When they moved to Richmond, Lincavage opened up the shop and named it Four Sisters after her four daughters.
Lincavage said that though a majority of their business is not reliant on college students, the absence of EKU students and faculty during the summer months certainly makes a difference to the amount of business they see.
“You do notice it,” Lincavage said. “We always notice a flux downward … we are always waiting for the students to come back. I don’t think Richmond in itself could support the type of commerce and the variety of different businesses that they have here. We are definitely dependent on the college and the students coming and supporting the businesses.”
Lincavage said that though Four Sisters is very invested in the college community, they are not sure how best to reach out to the student population in Richmond.
“We try. We’re not quite sure how to advertise to EKU students,” Lincavage said. “We typically just use Facebook and social media… it’s really our only outreach to them except just word of mouth because I think that’s how most people listen the most.”
She said that Four Sisters has expanded to host a variety of events for people in the community including a formal “Little Black Dress” event, comedy shows and monthly trivia nights.
Lincavage said that they try to encourage students to visit and support their shop as well as other local businesses. She said they do their best to make their shop a college-friendly environment with free wi-fi and discounts for students.
“We love EKU, we do quite a bit for EKU,” Lincavage said. “Students always get10 percent off in here every day on everything. On game day… students get 20 percent off. And that’s for students and faculty.”
Four Sisters is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Thursdays are a really good day for students to come,” Lincavage said. “It’s Thirsty Thursday so if you buy any tea or latte you get the same one free all day. If you buy any loose-leaf tea, you can mix and match, if you buy three scoops you get three free. It’s buy one get one all day Thursday.”
One event that Lincavage said was particularly helpful to the local businesses downtown was EKU’s storm downtown event during the Big E Welcome. She said she thought it was very helpful to local businesses because it introduced the incoming freshmen to places, they may not have otherwise known existed and set a precedent for them to come back over the years they spend at EKU.
“We saw such an increase of college students then because as freshmen they had been introduced,” Lincavage said. “We really appreciated those programs at EKU.”
Lincavage said that she and other local business owners discussed the possibility of creating a “locals only” card where the businesses would work together to promote each other to customers.
“That’s what the mall is actually turning into,” Lincavage said. “They call it the locals only mall because its only local businesses in here right now and that’s what they want to push this mall towards. Which, I think is cool because you’ve got the convenience of everything being in one spot, you only have to park once, but then you can kind of go from store to store. We just need more local businesses.”
Other local businesses have similar stories. Downtown locations like Apparitions Vintage Village, Twine Market and Design and Mike’s Hike and Bike face a lot of the same issues when it comes to dealing with the effects of student customer traffic.
Apparitions is a vintage store that supports local artists and sells handmade candles, vegan soap and vintage clothing and other items. Charlie Sowers has ran the shop with her daughter since it’s opening on Aug. 29, 2018. She said that the drop-in business during the summer was tangible, but she and her daughter were expecting it and were not as negatively affected by the change as some of the other local places.
“Well, we didn’t open up until the very end of August last year, so we weren’t sure how the summer sales were going to go,” Sowers said. “We did notice in June that things were slower, but we were told that it was going to be slow and we experienced that without the college students here.”
To combat the slower season, Sowers and her daughter reduced the store’s hours and used that time to shop around local flea markets and yard sales to replenish their inventory.
“It worked out fine for us,” Sowers said. “It picked up in July and August was fine, so we increased our hours again in August.”
Sowers said that the reduced hours in the summer were a blessing in disguise for their business. Currently, Apparitions is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
“It almost works as a benefit to us because of the nature of our business. We have to source our items, we can’t just order them, so we need that time to be able to go out and search,” Sowers said. “Everything in here, if it’s not handmade, is at least 20-years-old or older. It has to be vintage.”
Sowers said that the college community plays a major role in their business and that they do their best to structure their business towards the students.
“All of our customers are important to us,” Sowers said. “But we really want to keep our prices that are good prices and reasonable because a lot of our customers are college students and we feel the need to help the college students out.”
Mike’s Hike and Bike is another downtown location that sees a lot of college student traffic. This store focuses on selling bicycles and other outdoor equipment to some college students, but mostly to Richmond residents and people living in the community. They deal a lot with bike maintenance issues like flat tires and bike locks as well as boat rentals. Their hours are from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
Mike’s Hike and Bike, though relatively different in hours and customer base, still also experiences the effects of an increased college student presence in Richmond during the school year.
Patrick Hale, the shop manager and Mike’s (the owner) little brother, said that their biggest business booms are at the beginning and end of each school year and, because of the nature of their business, they have reduced hours due to a lot less business in the winter, but do not have as much of a problem in the summer.
“There are a lot of maintenance issues in early fall,” Hale said. “It tapers off in the winter when it starts getting cold. We basically hibernate at that point.”
He said there is a huge business rush towards the end of the spring semester as students and people in the community want to get their bikes ready for summer vacation as well as students trying to sell their bikes on consignment as they graduate or leave for the summer.
“Fall rolls around and we get a fair amount of families coming in looking at bikes for their kids going to college,” Hale said. “Usually they get turned away by the fact that our prices are a little more than Walmart bike prices.”
Hale said that more than students, the shop often sees EKU professors and other faculty.
“A lot of local people, a lot of professors and people working on the campus,” Hale said.
Much like Apparitions, Twine is a local home boutique and gift store. They are open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
“We sell anything from clothes to furniture and we also offer interior design,” Hadley Spencer, employee and the owner’s daughter, said.
Unlike many of the newer shops downtown, Twine has been in business for about five years and has learned how to adjust their store to the shifting tide of the university.
“A lot of our sales go throughout summer so we keep business coming in that way,” Spencer said. “By getting all the spring stuff out and putting all of our fall stuff in, so a lot of the sales throughout the summer help that. Also, we run a lot of promotions through downtown and work with other businesses and many events just to get new students coming in to know us.”
Spencer said even though they have learned to adjust, the presence of students downtown still affects their sales.
“We do see a lot more sales towards Christmas, that’s our biggest sale time,” Spencer said. “But I would say that when students are in town, we are a lot busier than when we are not in session for school.”