Downtown business is booming

Student dollars welcomed by Princess Street merchants

Modern Primitive employees welcome students back to the city at the start of each school year.
Modern Primitive employees welcome students back to the city at the start of each school year.
Photo: 
Cafes bustle come September with students seeking a hot cup of coffee.
Cafes bustle come September with students seeking a hot cup of coffee.
Photo: 

A sharp increase in Nalgene water bottle sales heralds the return of students, according to staff working at downtown camping and wilderness store Trailhead.

It’s one of many notable signs that almost 15,000 students are once again descending upon Kingston eager to fill their bellies, furnish their homes and clothe their bodies. The centre of much of this consumer activity is the stores of Princess Street, many of which report a marked increase in sales with the seasonal return of students.

“It’s an instant impact,” said Dan Shorey, A&P assistant manager. “Every year [A&P] prepares to be ready for [students].”

Trailhead owner James Malcolm said students provide a financially helpful boost in the fall.

“[Students are] a nice lift after the tourists go,” he said.

Staff say the state of affairs is much the same at Novel Idea, a bookstore on Princess Street.

“Historically, it’s a flush time in September,” said Jay Ridler, a cashier. “Agendas, journals and some class books [are purchased].”

At Schad, a clothing store, sales associate Shalta Dicaine said it’s easy to recognize when students are back.

“A lot of students shop here,” she said. “We definitely cater to a new clientele in the fall.” David Parkinson, owner of Modern Primitive, said students are important to his business.

“We run a business dependent on them, geared for them,” he said. “We wouldn’t be Kingston without the University.”

Melanie Hamilton, BEd ’05, said Princess Street is central to her shopping and the same goes for many of her peers.

“Most—85 to 95 per cent—of my shopping is downtown,” she said. “Pretty much everyone lives downtown, most of the people shop downtown.”

The proximity of Princess Street to the Ghetto is definitely a plus, Malcolm said.

“The economy is supported by the influx of students walking-distance from campus,” he said.

The downtown area is represented by the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area, an association of 750 businesses in the community.

“We promote and manage the [downtown] area,” said Doug Ritchie, managing director of Downtown Kingston. “[Kingston has] the bonus markets of students and tourists. They widely overlap and fill out the calendar year.”

The overall economic impact of the University on Kingston is more than $1 billion annually, as reported in a study by the Queen’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning. The report, originally published in 1994 and updated in 2003, estimated total local student spending at $207.3 million annually. The remainder of the financial impact comes from faculty and staff spending, direct University spending, the School of Medicine and visitors to the University such as alumni, parents and conference attendees.

While the University has released a report estimating the economic impact of students, Lindsay Tate English, business development co-ordinator with the AMS, said the Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO) doesn’t have a measure of this impact.

“There is no way to point to the dollar figure,” Tate English said. “The number is so astronomically large and so dispersed [among businesses].”

KEDCO President Bill Beattie was also unaware if any data existed on the impact of students.

“I don’t have any hard numbers,” he said.

Despite a lack of statistical information, Beattie said KEDCO recognizes the impact students have on the Kingston economy.

“Clearly, the students, through the rent they pay, property they own, the money they pay for goods and services ... I’m sure that students provide for [the] economy,” he said.

KEDCO is responsible for attracting business to Kingston for both tourism and industry. The relationship between the students and the downtown is not only related to purchasing power—students also work downtown as part-time employees.

“[Students are] a pool of resources for employment—[they] increase my selection,” Malcolm said. He said he sees the benefits of students on Princess Street as both a resident and a retailer.

“I find it very hard to be critical—[students] create vibrancy,” he said, referring to tensions between students and the community over the last school year. “From a retailer’s perspective, how can I be negative? I never understood the criticisms, [it was] no different 70 years ago. Maybe it’s because I don’t live in the Ghetto.” Beattie agreed.

“The positives [students bring] vastly outweigh the negatives,” he said. “The negatives get the press. The positives get taken for granted or forgotten.”

—With files from downtownkingston.ca

Queen’s economic impact by the numbers

$1 billion — the overall impact of Queen’s University on the local economy

$207.3 million — estimated student spending

$186.3 million — faculty and staff spending

$131.4 million — the School of Medicine’s impact on the local community

$36.5 million — estimated direct University spending on local goods
and services

$6.4 million — spending by visitors, including parents, alumni and
conference guests

Source: Queen’s University and the Kingston Area: An Economic Partnership by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning

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