As summer sizzles, College Park store owners see business fizzle -- Gazette.Net


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Bobby Karanovich knows what his business can expect from the summer, but that doesn’t make it any easier on the owner of Bagel Place in College Park.

“It slows way down,” said Karanovich, whose family-owned business has been open downtown on Baltimore Avenue for nearly 30 years. “We just wing it every year. We do the best we can.”

Most businesses that serve the student population of University of Maryland, College Park find themselves in a similar situation as the enrolled student population plummets from about 37,500 to about 7,000, as it did when graduation ceremonies ended May 21.

Karanovich said there’s not much he can do in the way of discounts and promotions to get more people through the door, so he cuts down on staff — about half of whom are college students who leave for the summer — and closes two hours early.

“We just don’t have the crowd to offer [discounts] to,” Karanovich said. “It’s not like we have a lot of visitors to attract.”

At R.J. Bentley’s Restaurant, owner John Brown said they try to cater to families visiting the campus for tours or other events, and a small number of area residents come for lunch or dinner because they like the quieter atmosphere in the summer. But the summer business is nowhere near what they get from students, who fill the bar and restaurant most nights during the school year.

“It’s like being in Ocean City in February,” Brown said. “But this City Council and the mayor [Andrew Fellows] understand and they’re trying to help.”

Recently, the city has made efforts to draw area residents into the business-heavy downtown area during the summer, like offering free parking Saturdays at the city-owned parking garage on Knox Road and holding a farmer’s market for the second year on Sundays at City Hall, also on Knox Road, just off of Baltimore Avenue.

“The student population is a key source of income for a lot of businesses,” said Michael Stiefvater, economic development coordinator for the city. “We’re hoping to draw people in during the summer, especially in the downtown area.”

Stiefvater said the city is also working to bring special weekly events like art shows or a concert series to the downtown district, though plans for those are still in the beginning stage.

A block away from Bagel Place, Big Planet Comics sees less of a sales drop because their specialty products make them a destination for comic fans, said manager Topham Hayes. But Hayes said he’s watched neighboring businesses fail when they don’t account for swings in business in College Park.

“It takes a lot of work to get a small business up and running,” said Hayes, adding that the nine other spaces in the shopping center have seen high turnover of businesses in recent years. “It seems like every year there’s someone new in all these places. It breaks my heart.”

hnunn@gazette.net