Published on April 11th, 2017 | by Chris Settineri0
The College Crowd Business
The city of Lakeland provides a unique business environment that caters to both full-time residents and the college crowd.
Four schools comprise the college audience in Lakeland: Florida Southern College, Southeastern University, Florida Polytechnic University and Polk State College. These four schools account for about 35% of commerce and business done in Lakeland according to a study done by the Better Business Bureau.
According to local business owners, the college students do make a difference.
“Every day at least 20 or 30 college kids walk through our door for breakfast or lunch,” Sam Debellis, co-owner of Uncle Nicks Bagels, said. “That makes up a big part of our everyday sales. Its great being in a place where we can serve a younger crowd.”
The younger crowd in Lakeland seems to spark the development of other venues and options for food and drink within the area. However, what happens during the summer when a lot of the regular students in town leave until the next semester?
“Summer can be tough, but for the most part Lakeland is a big enough market for us to survive with just our local clientele,” Jennifer Vindigni, District Supervisor for Manny’s Chophouse, said.
Other businesses find summer a much harder season. Mason’s Live, a popular nighttime hangout, is one of these places.
They said that while there is a large local crowd that does show up, their “bread and butter” patrons are college students primarily from Florida Southern and Southeastern.
It seems to mostly be food, drink and nightlife establishments that are most affected by the flux of the Lakeland student population. Other businesses don’t seem as affected.
“While we do get a lot of students coming in here while they’re walking around Dixieland, we really don’t see a lot of business from them or a change in business when they leave town,” said Linda Kelly Vinesett, owner of Petals Flower shop in Dixieland.
Most of the money students spend involve social activities such as eating or drinking out. In addition, considering Florida Southern policy on alcohol, students have even more of a reason to drink and socialize off campus and spend money in local businesses.
Overall, Lakeland is good mix between a smaller college town with a steady base of local residents that support the economy. Lakeland continues to grow and many students end up staying after their four years are up.
With events like First Friday, Dixieland Nights and Food Truck Thursday’s, the incentive to stay in town and support the local business environment is growing as well for college students. Even businesses like Hillcrest Coffee and 5th and Hall clothing have started up with the hope of not only catering to Lakeland’s college crowd but also the bigger picture that attracts a younger demographic to live, work and play in Lakeland.
Overall, Lakeland and it businesses continue to be an attraction to many people that come here and call it home. While some businesses do rely on the college crowd and may find certain seasons tougher they know that come fall business will be back in full swing.