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Students want Chick-fil-A, Waffle House and a movie theater, but will they get it?

Oxford is a small town with a permanent resident population of around 8,000, but when Miami University students arrive for the fall semester, its population nearly triples, when considering the students who live both on and off campus. Many businesses in town, such as Brick Street, OxVegas Chicken and others seek to capitalize on student demand.

However, living in a small college town comes with gaps in meeting demand. For example, nowhere in Oxford can students buy men’s shoes, except maybe Walmart. So, what businesses do students want that Oxford doesn’t currently have?

The Miami Student posted a poll on its Instagram story on April 22 asking students this question and received 43 responses. The top results of the survey were Chick-fil-A, a movie theater, a bookstore, an affordable grocery store, a smoothie place, Waffle House and Target.

Although Oxford currently doesn’t have these businesses, there are some plans and speculation that some of these businesses may be coming to town in the near future.

Where’s my Chick-fil-A?

On the top of the list of businesses was Chick-fil-A.

Robert (Chap) Sumerauer is a junior supply chain and operations management major who said he worked at Chick-fil-A for three years. He said he wants a Chick-fil-A in Oxford because of its fast service and good quality.

“It would bring jobs to [Oxford],” Sumerauer said. “Chick-fil-A is a pretty good work environment from when I worked there, and it’s just tasty food.”

Although there are no current plans for a Chick-fil-A opening in Oxford, Seth Cropenbaker, the city’s economic development specialist, said there is a potential market for one.

“In talking with the westside Hamilton [Raising] Canes, they’ve identified that they do between $20,000 to $25,000 a week in business from Miami University students,” Cropenbaker said. “... If you’re doing $20,000 a week [in Hamilton from Miami students], you’re a million dollar store [in Oxford].”

Cropenbaker said that one of the main challenges in attracting these large corporate brands to Oxford is the formulas they use to calculate viability.

“They’re very strategic about the communities that they move into, and that creates a pretty steep hill for us to overcome unless we can increase our permanent year-round resident base,” Cropenbaker said. “They’re working off an equation [and] if they can’t hit that [sales and revenue] target, they don’t spend a lot of time speculating on moving into [the] community.”

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More 24-hour food is coming to Oxford

Students will soon be able to enjoy all-day breakfast, lunch and dinner at the new Waffle House, which will be located at 5000 College Corner Pike. According to Cropenbaker, completion is estimated in the next 10-16 months.

Jacky Linden, a senior diplomacy and global politics major from Luxembourg, said she thinks Waffle House is an iconic American food chain and that its hours would benefit busy students.

“I would say, especially during finals week, people tend to work a lot in hours that might not be regular hours, so I think having some food alternatives open at all times will be beneficial for students,” Linden said.

Although responses to the poll solely reflected students, Cropenbaker said that many of these businesses, such as Waffle House, have a broader appeal, which could help increase the likelihood of other similar businesses coming to Oxford.

“That would be the hallmark of a healthy economy,” Cropenbaker said. “... [We are] grateful for and thankful for the presence of the university and undergraduate students … but if we only continue to build towards that [in the] future, we are continuing to develop that problem.”

Student entrepreneurship is taking the lead

Although Oxford is missing many businesses that students desire, students and recent graduates are taking matters into their own hands by developing business plans that may come to fruition in the near future.

Although there are no official plans to oversee the creation of a movie theater or a smoothie cafe, Cropenbaker said he is working with private owners and student entrepreneurs to make these businesses possible.

“I’ve got an entrepreneur who’s looking to bring a fresh-smoothie product [to Oxford],” Cropenbaker said. “I think there’s a very strong chance we will see a fresh smoothie business that’s doing fresh product smoothies, smoothie bowls and things like that in the fall of 2024.”

He also said there is potential for an urban Target or an affordable grocery store, such as Aldi, to fill the void Walgreens created when it shut down in November last year.

Although students are looking to start some of these businesses, Cropenbaker said the town’s economy presents a real challenge for entrepreneurs looking to open businesses.

“We’re really about an eight-month economy, and then we’re really two four-month economies per year,” Cropenbaker said. “Our economy really thrives on and is driven by the presence of undergrads. So when folks aren’t here, it makes businesses hard to sustain.”

For student entrepreneurs, Cropenbaker said a comprehensive business plan is critical to ensuring success.

“I think every [business] on this list has all the opportunity in the world to exist if a well-developed plan is behind it,” Cropenbaker said. “... If we can maybe develop a strategic plan including incentives and recruitment methods, we might see some additional businesses or industries up here get developed.”