Keeping businesses open in a college town


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Blacksburg, Va., May 1– Items in the window for sale at t.r. collection, a downtown shop that specializes in Blacksburg tourism gifts. Photo: Carson Bartlett

by Carson Bartlett, Katt Carter–

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Downtown Blacksburg businesses all face the unique challenge of being in close proximity to a large university. There are multiple benefits to being so close, such as heavy foot traffic and an active night scene, but there are also some drawbacks, such as a dead summer season and the competitiveness of such a small area.

Over the course of this academic year for Virginia Tech, several businesses have closed while others have just opened. Mad Dog, a downtown boutique, recently closed, while Bottom of the Stairs, or BOTS, had its grand opening in April.  BOTS is the downstairs sister-store of Top of the Stairs, or TOTS, which is a popular Blacksburg bar. The heavy amount of student traffic is what encouraged the owners of TOTS to open their downstairs space as a more family friendly venue, as a way to get more business.

t.r. collection is a downtown business that features home goods and gifts for student families and New River Valley locals.  The store opened 19 months ago and owners say that due to their positive experience in the community, they are looking to open another store within the area.

Michelle Raub, co-owner of t.r. collection, says that there is a sweet spot with price points that work well with the nearby student customers as well as Blacksburg locals.  “We did a lot of research on college towns before opening the business. It really is a different mindset than opening in other towns,” Raud said.

According to the official website for the Town of Blacksburg, the area has a daily population of 50,000 people, with a good portion of that being the students at Virginia Tech.

“With downtown shops, they have to change out their stock often. Some people go out every week, and if you always have the same stuff for sale than those people won’t come back in,” said Nicole LaFlamme, a junior political science major at the university.

Downtown stores also hold events throughout the year to engage the community and not just the college students. Many of these, such as the Downtown Trick or Treat event, and the Winter Lights Festival are used as a means to bring out locals of the New River Valley in order to help vendors reach past the collegiate population.



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