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Surviving summer: How Oxford businesses stay afloat during the break

With students gone, Oxford's atmosphere becomes much quieter in the summer.
With students gone, Oxford's atmosphere becomes much quieter in the summer.

As the semester draws to a close, Oxford's atmosphere becomes noticeably quieter. Miami University students head home for the summer, replacing the city’s lively atmosphere with a quieter rhythm. As a result, local businesses face a new challenge: staying viable.

Because of the summer slump, local business owners must adapt by doing things such as reducing hours of operation and engaging with local residents.

Economic development specialist Seth Cropenbaker said a changing population is one of the challenges Oxford businesses face.

“We’re a community of about 8,000 permanent residents,” Cropenbaker said. “During the academic semesters, we grow to nearly 28,000 people.” 

Because of the decrease in population, businesses lose most of their customer base. According to Cropenbaker, “79% of all jobs in Oxford are dependent upon the presence of Miami.

While local businesses in Oxford face challenges during the summer, they have a few tricks up their sleeve to help with the slump.

“Some businesses change or reduce hours, whether they close certain days or are closed entirely for periods of time,” Cropenbaker said. “We try to encourage patronage in our businesses by hosting events.”

One of these events is the Uptown Music Concert Series.

“Virtually every Thursday of the summer, there are free concerts in Uptown Park,” Cropenbaker said. “The idea behind this is ‘Hey, there’s some entertainment, come on out. Oh, by the way, while you’re here, why don’t you grab dinner Uptown?’”

Businesses also try to target Oxford residents. By tapping into the summer population of Oxford, businesses are able to build a customer base while continuing business when Miami students are on break.

“Probably our biggest opportunity to support local businesses is to try to encourage and support additional permanent residency in the city of Oxford,” Cropenbaker said.

In addition to the strategies businesses use, the Oxford government offers support as well. There are programs that give grants to Oxford businesses to support them during slow periods. According to Cropenbaker, these grants are awarded to businesses that have operated in the city for the past year.

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Cropenbaker said there are similar grants that go towards business improvement.

“[These programs are] a matching grant program with an award cap of $2,500,” Cropenbaker said. “And that’s for a business to do a facade improvement.”

Facade improvements could include a new sign or paint job for the building.

Despite the summer slump, there are some businesses that are still able to keep their customer base. Attitudes Uptown, a beauty salon, serves as a prime example.

“There is less going on for us as far as the students go,” said Mona Kirby, co-owner of Attitudes Uptown “But that's when we take our vacations. So our staff is less and the townspeople come in more.”

Attitudes Uptown is dependent on their long-term clientele base to survive Oxford’s off-season. They’ve been able to build this customer base by being in Oxford long enough to have returning customers.

“Now, we've been here long enough that we have enough regulars coming in that it's not that big of a difference [over the summer],” Kirby said.

Other businesses in Oxford are able to retain the same local customer base during the off season.

“We don’t usually do a ton differently… strictly because we’ve just been here for a really long time,” Matt Woods, a manager at Bagel and Deli, said. “Word of mouth kind of does our job for us. [Some customers have] been coming here for 30 years.”

Because of their business model, staffing is not an issue either.

“We’re not like a lot of restaurants … we can run on one person,” Woods said. “Even when it is slower, it’s still worth it for us to be open because we don’t have a ton of overhead costs there.”