Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Back in class, back in business at UMD

With beginning of spring semester, retailers are ready to resume full shifts for employees and longer hours for student shoppers

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University of Maryland, College Park students returned to the city Monday after their winter break and local merchants expect sales to rebound with their arrival.

Asian Grill Café owners Silvino and Maria Delosandos said their business on College Avenue was definitely affected by the absence of the students, which began Dec. 19.

‘‘Business has gone down, probably 70 percent in the past month,” said Silvino Delosandos. ‘‘It’s really hard because we have had to give less hours to the employees because business had been so slow.”

The café has five part-time employees who know they may be laid off temporarily, he said.

During the school year, the café would close at 10 p.m., but with a decidedly smaller customer base, Silvino Delosandos said some days he would close as early as 6 p.m.

With the students returning, Maria Delosandos anticipates business going back on the upswing and all of the employees being able to work regular shifts again.

Doris Aigbe, the manager at the College Park Convenience store on College Avenue, said business is down about 80 percent when the students leave for their breaks.

‘‘It’s like a ghost town when they aren’t here. Most of the business is from the students,” Aigbe said.

Business also dropped off at the Thirsty Turtle bar and restaurant on Route 1.

‘‘We started dropping in sales the first week in January. We didn’t open for lunch because I knew it would be dead,” said the bar’s principal owner, Alan Wanuck.

To encourage his customer base back, he is advertising in the university’s student newspaper and offering special discounts.

‘‘I’m excited about their return,” said Tim Kearney, a Thirsty Turtle bartender. ‘‘I make more money. Business has slowed down while they’ve been gone. I love these guys. They pay the rent.”

John Johns, manager at Ratsie’s Pizza Place at the corner of Knox Road and Route 1, said business dropped about 60 percent since the students left, but he hadn’t had to cut back any of his employees’ hours.

‘‘Some days we closed early,” he said. ‘‘I usually close at 2 a.m., but some nights, I closed at midnight. I think business will pick up, but it will take a little time to get back to where it was.”

At Vertigo Books, co-owner Todd Stewart said students make up about 50 percent of business and he was looking forward to their return.

‘‘It’s nice to have a little down time, but you still have to pay the rent,” he said.

E-mail Deborah Stoudt at dstoudt@gazette.net.