Declining SIU enrollment numbers have some businesses on the Strip concerned.
With close to 1,000 fewer students than last year on campus, the downtown establishments view the decline as a loss of potential customers.
Raymond Jones of Blade Kings Barber Shop, where 75 percent of the customers are students, said he has noticed the affect on his business.
“I have seen a decrease from last year to this year in students coming in,” he said. “It’s definitely been a lot slower. Students still support the business, though.”
More than $850 million of southern Illinois economic activity is annually contributed by SIU, according to an economic impact study published last year.
Jones said he is concerned the declining enrollment trend may continue and result in less money for his store and others.
“That’s going to affect my business a lot,” he said. “I’m definitely concerned.”
Doug McDonald, owner of Phoenix Cycles, said he has seen a gradual decline of students for 30 years.
“We’ve been here 30 years and we’ve kind of watched enrollment go up, and now it’s going back down again,” he said. “Less people in town means less business for the shops.”
McDonald said the bicycle repair service his store offers, which is comprised mainly of student customers, is down compared to previous years.
He said his business survives because it draws from a larger community than just Carbondale.
“We are very fortunate that we just don’t rely on SIU students,” McDonald said. “We have customers from Marion, DuQuoin and many other towns in the area.”
Gwen Hunt, owner of PK’s, said she has seen a lot of changes in her 57 years on the Strip. She said while the daytime customers are mainly regulars, students make up the majority of nighttime customers. She said that has probably been affected the most because enrollment has gone down.
“It’s just kind of the luck of the draw each year,” she said. “It really depends on how people feel about coming here to SIU. I think students are very valuable to the downtown area, and it’s unfortunate when we don’t have as many students here.”
Hunt said for enrollment to improve, she thinks the university needs to rethink its strategy so that everyone in Carbondale will benefit.
“The university needs to step back and think about how much it’s spending,” she said. “If their enrollment is down, they need to cut back on their spending.”
Spencer Brooks, who works at Old Town Liquors, said students make up a large portion of the store’s business. He said while his store is still doing fine on weekends, he has noticed a difference during other times.
“It’s changed a little bit because of enrollment dropping,” he said. “Students do help us a lot.”
Alex Ryterski, who works at El Greco restaurant, said the business depends heavily on students. He said it’s normal for business at the restaurant to go up and down at various points of the year. However, he said he has noticed a change among the businesses in the area.
“I can see (a decline) happening at all the businesses,” he said. “These places were built because of students. They rely on students.”
Tricia Work, owner of The Bike Surgeon, said students account for 40 percent of her customers. Work said while her store has been busy during the first few weeks of school, the declining enrollment is unfortunate.
“It would be nice if that would change,” she said.