City of Corvallis to be impacted this summer by lost OSU student population

Photo by Jess Hume-Pantuso
Bo&Vine Burger Bar, located in downtown Corvallis, Ore. is just one of the many businesses who are affected by the reduced student population during summer term. As students leave to go home or study abroad, college towns like Corvallis notice a dip in revenue due to the change in population.

Kelsy Valentine, News Contributor

After a year with low numbers for the college-student population in Corvallis, Ore. due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city will face impacts from the further loss of students over the summer.

Oregon State University has not had official in-person classes on the Corvallis campus since winter of 2020, leading to many students choosing not to live in Corvallis and instead taking remote classes from their hometown. Now, despite the light at the end of the tunnel with most classes returning to in-person instruction in fall of 2021, there are even fewer students in Corvallis as they leave for the summer.

This issue of the lost college-student population in the summer months has been around for a long time but may be even worse now because of COVID-19.

“In normal, non-COVID-19 years, the summer months when students leave is what many businesses consider the ‘slow season,’” said Kate Porsche, the economic development manager for the City of Corvallis, via email. “This has been exponentially amplified during COVID-19, where the student population has been greatly reduced for more than a year now.”

According to Hyatt Lytle, the Corvallis City Council president, downtown Corvallis is showing a more damaging response to the lost student population. She said that college students are what bring downtown life and that, without them, it’s struggling.

“Obviously the 25,000 people that live here without the students aren’t enough to sustain it,” Lytle said.

When students are present in the city, Porsche said the OSU college-student population can have a huge positive effect on the city’s economy, which includes the university itself being a top employer and contributor to the economy.

“Students contribute to the local economy through their spending habits, patronizing local restaurants, bars, salons and grocery stores, as well as their contributions through residential rent and utilities,” Porsche said. “Local businesses have come to rely on the student population for not just their spending habits, but for employment as well.”

However, the lack of students in the summer months does give the city a chance to accomplish some of the tasks they otherwise could not with a higher population present.

“On our side, it’s playing catch up,” Lytle said. “All those capital improvement projects that we can’t do during the year cause there’s so much extra traffic, there’s so many people. So now it’s time to get out there, and the weather is better, do those projects, get ready for the school year.”

Lytle emphasized, though, that this doesn’t mean it’s better not to have the students in the city during the summer.

“I think there’s a balance of ‘it’s that time of preparing for fall,’ because students are part of the city, they’re part of the community, so it’s like ‘let’s get ready for that time,’” Lytle said. “Because there’s so many benefits that come from having students as we’ve seen this past year without them.”

While much of Corvallis’s economy and most businesses are affected by the lack of students, both Porsche and Lytle said that restaurants in particular have been hit the worst.

“The businesses that are affected the most [by students leaving] also happen to be the businesses affected most by COVID-19,” Porsche said. “With the exception of grocery stores, this would include restaurants, bars, salons, etc.”

One popular restaurant in Corvallis, Bo & Vine Burger Bar, has seen and been impacted by this loss in student population, despite that the Bo & Vine Burger Bar opened relatively recently in Corvallis in late 2018.

“[Business] does slow down quite a bit,” said Peter Schomus, the manager of Bo & Vine’s Corvallis location. “But I notice more of the community that’s not students come out more often. But our busy times aren’t as busy without

the students.”

While Bo & Vine doesn’t get as much business without students, Schomus said the population that’s not college students has been reliable to them, so they try to be reliable in return.

During the pandemic, Schomus said the restaurant had to adapt to the rules and transfer to online and takeout orders, but that they otherwise weren’t affected much by it.

“Business-wise, COVID-19 didn’t necessarily hurt how busy we were, because I think we were one of the few places that stayed open,” Schomus said. “Because we wanted to be here for people and serve the community. So, in a way, it was a successful year.”

However, Bo & Vine does tend to have staff that’s made up of a lot of students, whom they usually lose during the summer when those students leave.

“So, some leave, some stay depending on their living situation, and this year… a lot of students have left,” Schomus said. “Just because of COVID-19 and then it was another wave of just, you know, they’re moving onto the next thing, part of their careers, whatever it was, internships.

Whenever students leave, Schomus said he needs to replace that person, but filling vacant positions has been a struggle for many businesses around Corvallis recently. As the city begins to reopen again due to the vaccines that are lowering COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, many businesses are increasing capacity and thus are seeking to hire more workers back.

“The biggest impact we are hearing about are the hiring challenges businesses are facing,” Porsche said. “With many businesses reopening, and with Oregon being on the cusp of reopening, businesses are looking to fill positions. I think this has been extra challenging in Corvallis due to the lack of students during the pandemic, and now summer break as things reopen.”

According to Porsche, if these businesses are able to fully reopen sometime in the near future, this will lessen the impact they are facing, but that without the students who make up a large portion of Corvallis’s population, they will still face hardships.

“It is not just the students individually, but the friends and family members that come visit them, and patronize the local businesses,” Porsche said.

Fortunately for the City of Corvallis, OSU is still planning to resume its in-person classes in the fall, and this will bring the population numbers that the city is used to back to its normal levels. Until then, citizens who will remain in Corvallis over the summer are encouraged to support their local businesses.

“When we talk about impacts to businesses, I would remind folks, the best thing you can do is go out and shop at your favorite locally-owned stores, eat out at your favorite local restaurants,” Porsche said. “Continue to support our small businesses however you can!”

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