May 4, 2006

Collegetown Businesses Brace for Summer Slowdown

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With summer vacation looming ever closer, Cornell students are busy cramming for finals, finding sublets and saying goodbye to their friends. Just off-campus in Collegetown, businesses are also preparing for summer vacation – not as a time for road trips and internships, but as an annual change in business that comes each time Cornellians leave for the summer.

While it is true that many choose to stay in Ithaca for the summer – no doubt a just reward for surviving the previous winter – the reality is that the majority of Cornell students do not stay in Ithaca, leaving Collegetown restaurants to deal with slower business and months of lower profits.

Khalid Attia, owner of popular pizzeria Collegetown Pizza, says that summer break means a drastic downturn in his business. Embarking on its fifth year of business, Attia says that Collegetown Pizza sees about 30 percent of its school-year business over the summer. He copes with the downturn in student clientele by devoting profits from the spring to maintaining the business over the slow summer months.

“We have to adjust to it, whether it’s a problem or not – it’s something we have to get through to the next season,” Attia said, adding that business picks up again in late August, when students return to school. He also noted that while Collegetown Pizza is open all 12 months of the year, “it seems like we’re only working about eight and a half.”

A similar situation occurs next door to Collegetown Pizzeria at Stella’s, a combination café and restaurant on College Avenue. Tris DiPilato, one of the restaurant’s managers, said that Stella’s does most of its business between spring break and graduation.

“After graduation, it severely declines,” she said. While the café is able to maintain a steady flow of customers during the summer, the restaurant sees a drastic drop in customers – a situation similar to the one encountered during winter break. Noting that “not a lot of townspeople come to Stella’s,” DiPilato said that the restaurant deals with the slower business by reducing staff during the summer.

“[The decline] is probably something owners have learned to deal with,” said DiPilato, “if you’re going to open a business in an area like this, you have to expect that most of your clientele are going to be affiliated with the college.”

Vegetarian café and restaurant ABC Café, however, seems less affected by summer vacation than other Collegetown businesses. Owner Ken Hallett says that business in the café “slows down an average of 10 percent.” While the summer brings a drop in student visitors to ABC Café, it also sees an increase in tourists who come to the restaurant.

Tourism proves to be a major factor in ABC Café’s summer business, with Hallett noting that last summer “was extremely hot. … It really hurt the tourist industry and therefore our business was slower than it might have been.” Describing the Cornell community as “vibrant,” even during summer break, Hallett said that ABC Café experiences its biggest decrease in business in January, while students are on winter break.

“Summer is busier than January,” Hallett said. The restaurant closes for 10 days between Christmas and New Years’ to accommodate the drop in customers.

Similarly optimistic about the summer is Pam Merkel, manager of Collegetown Bagels, a Collegetown staple and Cornell student favorite. Merkel says that while business drops the first week after students leave, it picks up again when summer classes begin. Business is also boosted in the summer by Ithaca townspeople, with Merkel noting that “locals tend to spend more time [in Collegetown] when students aren’t here.”

While summertime is not as busy as the school year for CTB, Merkel says that she enjoys the slower pace. “It gives us a chance to take a break,” she says, adding that the summer is a nice change from the usual hectic pace the restaurant operates at during the school year.

“It’s good,” Merkel notes, saying that the summer gives CTB the chance to “come up with new things, re-do the store. … All of us can take our summer break.”

So whether you prefer CTB’s endless sandwich choices or Stella’s “kitchen and cocktails,” Cornell students can rest assured that their favorite Collegetown businesses will be here waiting for them in the fall.

Archived article by Christine Ryu
Sun Staff Writer