Every summer, thousands of students at Southeast Missouri State University head back to their hometowns and leave Cape Girardeau, taking millions of dollars with them.
"Business drops, you can definitely tell," said Buckner Brewing Co. manager and bartender Marcellus Jones. "There is a huge, huge difference in the summer months. We probably have half the crowd on a weekend."
Buckner Brewing Co. is not unique. Many of the city's businesses say the university's students are some of their best customers.
"Our business does drop off when school is out, obviously," said Sprigg Street Domino's Pizza manager Paula Finn. "The students really are a big part of our sales."
Two studies done in 2003 by the university's Harrison College of Business show students do spread their money around. An economic impact study estimated that students spent more than $51 million in the Cape Girardeau area during the nine-month academic year, including an estimated $2.8 million by students' families during visits.
Southeast students spent $5.3 million dining out, more than $1.8 million on going out to drink alcohol and nearly $82,000 on tattoos and piercings.
Dr. Bruce Domazlicky, director of the university's Center for Economic and Business Research, said the students' impact is considerable.
"The university plays a big part in the economy. Its impact is significant," said Domazlicky, who oversaw the Harrison College of Business studies. "I would imagine the numbers might be higher now than they were in the studies simply because there are presently over 10,000 students spending in every area from basic needs to retail sales."
When students leave for the summer, they also leave jobs behind.
Students normally fill the extra need for employees during the academic year, everything from retail and food service to internships and management, and pay an estimated $39,411,000 for all taxes, according to the College of Business study. They take home about $72,129,000, a large chunk of which is spent in the Cape Girardeau area.
At Jimmy Johns, the sandwich shop's business is down during the summer and so are the number of employees, a manager said. Students normally make up a good portion of the restaurant's staff. But sales are down an estimated 50 percent during the three months school is out, so the shop simply does not fill the vacant positions until the school year begins.
The safest way for businesses to prepare for the summer in Cape Girardeau may be to market to nonstudents and offer summer specials. U-Tan owner Cassy Dameron said she knows the exodus is coming every year and attempts to get community members to come to her tanning salon, which is on Sprigg Street across from the Towers dormitory complex.
"The students leaving does affect us, but this is a slow time of year for our business anyway, and we kind of take it as it is," Dameron said. "I would say at least 50 percent of our customers are students, though. As far as employees, we get lucky because most of them stay and do some work during the summer."
Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce president and CEO John Mehner said although the impact is significant, the city's economy is not focused on students.
"The university is a major contributor to our community, there is no doubt about that," Mehner said. "But Cape is fortunate enough to not only be a regional center for education, but a regional medical center, a regional retail center and a regional center for manufacturing."
City sales-tax receipts prove Mehner's case. In 2006, retail sales averaged $684,675 a month during the academic year, as opposed to an average of $670,468 for the months of May, June and July. Restaurant sales went along the same line, averaging $86,831 a month during the 2007 academic year and $83,332 a month in the summer.
Although the city's economy is affected by the back and forth of university students coming and going, Mehner said, Cape Girardeau is definitely a town with a college, not a college with a town around it.
"Cape is a large enough economy to stand on its own," Mehner said. "The students are a large part of that while they are here, but unlike some other places this city has enough going on aside from the university to sustain a healthy economy year-round."
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What students spend money on
Top 15 items Southeast Missouri State University students spent money on in a 2003 Harrison College of Business report (figures are rounded to nearest dollar).
* Groceries: $5,520,694
* Dining out: $5,307,070
* Gas: $4,261,766
* Car payment: $4,127,024
* Rent: $3,072,636
* Clothing: $2,103,952
* Alcohol (bars): $1,801,368
* Cell phone: $1,791,541
* Family shopping: $1,453,876
* Alcohol (stores): $1,441,424
* Miscellaneous entertainment: $1,405,891
* Computers: $1,182,248
* Toiletries: $1,115,005
* Utilities: $1,033,716
* Hair care: $963,184