Greenville businesses learn to adjust as ECU students leave for the summer

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – Erin Davis is an ECU alumna who started her clothing business online in 2012 out of her college dorm.

Her first storefront opened in downtown Greenville in 2015 and now she has two separate locations, along with her online store.

As an individually owned store in a city with a prominent college student population, the beginning of summer is a tricky time.

“There is definitely a huge population swing when the students are not here. Everybody loves when they come back, maybe not so much for the traffic but business owners love it,” Davis said.

According to Census Bureau data from 2022, Greenville has a population of 89,233, while ECU has 26,785 students. That is why Davis gets ahead of the game to keep the store afloat in the summer when the number of customers and sales are down.

“For the summer months, we are already bringing out the red, white, and blue collection for the Fourth of July. We’re bringing in things that people are looking for on vacation, things like that, really specific items that we know are going to carry people throughout the summer,” Davis shared.

Davis also features customized local products to connect with residents.

According to Davis, small mom-and-pop shops support each other to keep the dollars local. Their main competition is against chains and online big box stores so the relationships with the customers and high-quality local products are key to them.

Tobias Boutilier owns a deli with his wife in downtown Greenville. He says summer is the time to seek unique avenues to promote the business.

“Try to utilize the outside space so we will bring the bar out here, we do patio parties, we’re doing nachos, we cook pigs out here, we have cornhole out here and Jenga out here. Things for the families to come out and have fun on the weekends,” Boutilier explained.

Boutilier says they also focus on catering to the residents in the summer and highlight locally produced goods and home cooking to compete with chains.