The University of Wyoming’s incoming freshman class begin moving into the residence halls Monday — and for some downtown business owners, the student influx is a welcomed reprieve from a slow summer.
Ryan Kiser, who opened 8 Bytes Game Café in August 2016, is one such owner.
“As hard as it is to admit that I’m happy to see summer go — because our summers are so short here — I’m actually really looking forward to having the students come back and having our second year underway,” he said.
The arcade-bar-restaurant’s customer-base is roughly 70-80 percent UW students, Kiser said. And as a hang-out open to all ages, 8 Bytes — more than many other businesses — is affected by the absence or presence of freshmen.
After a first year wrought with growing pains and a summer lacking in freshman crowds, Kiser said UW’s record-setting incoming freshman class could make or break his business.
“I anticipate that if we kind of can pull ourselves out of the hole that was created through the summertime with things being slow, that actually the second year is going to go very well for us, particularly knowing now that there’s going to be such a large incoming freshman class,” Kiser said.
UW Office of Academic Affairs estimates the university will enroll 1,750 freshmen in 2017 — a 13 percent increase from 2016 and the largest freshman class in UW’s history.
Total enrollment will likely remain stable, however, because the university had its largest ever graduating class in spring 2017.
Depending on the diversity of their customers, many businesses are insulated from the fluctuations in Laramie’s population brought on by small or large class sizes at UW.
Scott Kindler, owner of the Terrapin Station, said his customers were anywhere from 18-70 years old and summer break has a greater impact than relative class sizes.
“I don’t know that I’ve experienced that much of a difference,” Kindler said. “Summer’s always down, just a little bit anyhow, when the students leave.”
Kindler added a larger student body could mean more business downtown, which could mean Laramie residents have more money to spend, and that, in turn, could mean more business for the Terrapin.
The construction on Third Street affected Kindler’s business more than UW’s small 2016 freshman class, he said, because it made potential customers “fight” to get there. Kindler said the Grand Avenue construction by the residence halls could have a similar effect once students are back.
“I’m hoping that it won’t affect me,” he said. “But I can see that it’s going to push a lot more people toward Wal-Mart than downtown — and I’m at the edges of downtown.”
Other businesses, such as the Crowbar and Grill, are even more insulated from fluctuating class sizes.
“We’ve been open five years and pretty much every year has been consistently 10 percent bigger every year,” said Andy Glines, the restaurant’s owner. “Just about every month is 10 percent higher than the previous year.”
Glines said big summer events such as Laramie Jubilee Days and Cheyenne Frontier Days make up for the annual dip in population. And because freshmen only come in for food and not alcohol, their impact on the restaurant’s profits is probably not major, though that effect is difficult to estimate, he said.
Nolan Carter, who owns both The Knothole clothing store and Pinebeach Ink, deals more with sororities, student clubs and other university groups, rather than individual students, so the small freshman class last year did not hurt his businesses.
“We don’t necessarily feel a whole lot of impact,” Carter said. “We generate a lot of our revenue through the school itself, not necessarily with students.”
The level of excitement surrounding UW sports is more likely to affect Pinebeach Ink and the Knothole than student enrollment, Carter said. Coming off a successful football season in 2016, Carter said he is preparing to meet increased demand.
UW athletics hype directly affects the success of many Laramie businesses, he said.
“I think the university has noticed that and they’ve really started to push that program,” Carter said. “And I think that’s why they’ve dumped so much money into that sports program, is because they can see how much revenue actually comes through that.”
For the businesses reliant on student — and particularly younger student — support, the end of summer and the beginning of the fall semester are cause for celebration.
For example, 8 Bytes plans to bring in new students by hosting a Move-In Day event Monday, during which arcade games are free and “mocktails” — non-alcoholic drinks — will be served.
“People are going to be excited to be back in Laramie and there are a lot of great events that are going to be happening,” he said.