Downtown Lawrence businesses face a ‘plateau’ of business during the summer

By Katherine Galliani

The Big Mill in Lawrence, Kansas, experiences steady business amid a plateau of business in the summer. Lawrence businesses rely on college students, most of whom leave town during the summer.

When the school year concludes at the University of Kansas, small business owners in Lawrence, Kansas, routinely plan to see a decline in customers and a change in community.  

Many small businesses in Lawrence appeal to college-age customers, and for good reason. The student population (total head-count) for KU in 2021 was 23,958 while the overall population in Douglas County was 110,826

These population numbers mean that students make up 21.61% of the overall Lawrence population. While not all university students are from out of state, you can expect that at least some of the student population will decline in the summer months. 

Brett Pfanenstiel, the co-owner of Ad Astra Piercing Company, said that the summer months felt different and that he noticed his business had “plateaued.” Pfanenstiel has owned Ad Astra for over three years now after moving from his initial business in Wichita, Kansas. 

“Last year after COVID is when we started getting more and more busy,” Pfanenstiel said. “While we still always have customers, our largest group of customers is between the ages of 18 and 25 years old, which obviously falls right into the college-aged range.”

Ad Astra doesn’t perform genital or surface piercings/surface anchors on minors without written parental consent, according to Ad Astra’s website

“We have noticed an increase in the younger population coming in with their parents to get them to sign the waiver while it’s summer and they have more time,” Pfanenstiel said.

Restaurants may be different in terms of customer availability in Lawrence, regardless of the population decrease over the summer. However, the diversity from students to resident customers stays consistent. 

Big Mill, a newer restaurant that happened to survive after only being open regularly three weeks before the pandemic started, has seen steady business since school ended in May. 

Amy Kendrick, the manager of Big Mill, said that business has generally been steady, despite Kendrick noticing a lack of professors and students. 

“Since we are right by the stadium, of course, our busiest time of year is football season,” Kendrick said. “Our business has still been steady aside from summer holidays like Memorial Day, and we are expecting to have a slow Fourth of July.”

Since bars are college students’ frequent hangout, it is important to note the trending change there. Individual businesses close both of the popular college bars, The Hawk and The Bull, for the summertime due to lack of students in Lawrence, but how about the local bars? 

Sean Donnelly, manager for Louise’s Bar downtown, said that there is a significant decrease in customers overall. 

The establishment doesn’t depend on student business for the reason that students only typically come in once or twice a week because of school. However, they miss the business and positive energy that they do receive when the students are in town.

“The student regulars are typically juniors going into their senior year because they want to celebrate their last year in Lawrence,” Donnelly said. “We don’t have student business during the summer months, only the regular townies who live here, so they can come whenever they want.” 

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