The Rebound Indiana: Some businesses in college towns struggle with fewer students in town

Some report up to 80 percent revenue loss
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Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-28 08:23:22-04

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INDIANAPOLIS — Some businesses in college towns are working to adjust and stay open as virtual learning and the lack of students and employees in their towns earlier this year meant less customers helping support them.

Some businesses near Indiana University's Bloomington campus and Ball State University in Muncie are reporting an 80% loss of revenue so far this year.

With students and some staff members back on campus, for now, organizations are hoping the students continue to support the businesses and non-profits in town.

Erin Predmore, president and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, says a lot of business in Bloomington are structured around when students are on campus and events at the university.

"So whether it's around staffing, or their supply lines and their orders, it's a ripple effect throughout the whole community," Predmore said. "So there's a release when students go home in that the city feels bigger for ourselves the ones of us that our left in town and we enjoy that time. But then we also miss the students and want them to come back. The students really bring a vibrancy to the city that we all appreciate."

Because faculty, staff, and students are able to do more work and learning from home, Predmore says this is also having an impact on the businesses in the city.

"Our community, and it's true, has been recession-proof over the years because the university is so steady, and even when there is a recession, people, in fact, tend to enroll in university for school more, because maybe they've lost their job or they want more training," Predmore said. "No one anticipated a pandemic."

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, some food and beverage businesses have reported up to an 80 percent revenue loss, a survey from the chamber found, Predmore said.

"That absence of people really does matter," Predmore said.

The survey found an average of 35% revenue loss across all industries.

"And they anticipate a mirror image of that moving forward," Predmore said. "They're not very hopeful that it's going to improve."

Even 10 to 30% of a revenue loss for small businesses can have a big impact and may even force them to close their doors, Predmore said.

"That's all their profit, that's dipping into needing to lay people off and all of that," Predmore said. "Especially when it goes to cash on hand. Because they haven't been as established, many of them only have a couple of months of cash on hand. So if you go down 25% for the year, that's a quarter. So you've already lost three months of income, and if you only had two months' worth of cash, you're closing your door."

Businesses are turning to the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce for direction and resources. The chamber is working to be a center of information for these businesses and help connect them to whatever resources they may need.

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Tivoli Fashions in Bloomington

While the pandemic is having an impact on businesses, some businesses in the Bloomington community, but not as close to the university as others, aren't having as much of an impact.

David Nichoalds, who helps run Tivoli Jewelry, says the store's customers are mainly people who live in Bloomington and parents who come to visit their students at IU.

Nichoalds said the store has seen a decrease in revenue and customers, but some long-time customers are continuing to support the store by purchasing gift cards. He says since students have returned to school more parents have been visiting the store.

"We do a tremendous business when there is homecoming, parents weekend, and things like that," Nichoalds said. "There have been lots of parents in because they have gone back to school."

The businesses in the Bloomington community aren't alone. In Muncie, the community and some businesses near Ball State University are also struggling during the pandemic.

Heather Williams is the associate director for community engagement and program manager for building better neighborhoods. She focuses on the relationship between Ball State University and the Muncie community and connecting resources of the university to the needs of the neighborhoods. She also works on the strategy the university uses to engage with the Muncie, Delaware County, and regional communities.

When both students and staff are able to do work remotely and aren’t coming to Muncie for work or school, Williams says it’s having an impact on the businesses in the city.

When the pandemic began, Williams said the restaurant her husband co-owns in downtown Muncie had an 80% loss.

But their restaurant isn’t alone either. She says she has heard about similar losses from other businesses in The Village.

“You know the Village really really depends on April, May, to get them through the summer because those are big months," Williams said. "Those are when the students come back out because the weather starts getting nice. You know they’re sitting on the patio at The Cup, they’re eating outside at Roots. And to the same degree faculty and staff. You know and then it was just gone. It was gone."

Williams says she isn't worried about the future of the relationship between the Muncie and Ball State communities, but she is worried about what people are losing now.

"That feeling of community, like you are apart of something, we want the students to have that," Williams said. "We want them to know Muncie is their home while they're here and it's just really difficult to share that message and get that point across when we can't welcome them with open arms."

Part of her role at Ball State and in the community is to help plan events and bring students to them.

One of those events, the ArtsWalk, is apart of the DWNTWN First Thursday program and is an opportunity for people and families to enjoy autumn festivities and support local businesses and artists.

“And we’re struggling right now with the Arts Walk, with the first Thursday Art Walks in October, which is usually the biggest event downtown," Williams said. "How do we deal with social distancing and bringing the students down, especially when the numbers are peaking right now?"

Students or staff members who are looking to still get involved in the community can volunteer with some of the local non-profits.

"I can say that everyone is doing what they can to meet the safety protocols that the CDC puts in place and then even going beyond that," Williams said. "So I feel like the non-profits are doing what they can to make it as safe as possible. If they are asking for volunteers, then they've provided an opportunity they feel is safe for volunteers to be there."

For more information on COVID-19 related resources, like economic assistance, non-profit help, basic services, state and local resources, and more from the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, click here.

For more information on COVID-19 resources from the Muncie-Delaware County Economic Development Alliance, click here.

To view more stories and resources from WRTV's The Rebound: Indiana initiative, click here.

How to get involved
If you would like to help volunteer in the Muncie community, students can check Ball State's give pulse website.

In Bloomington, the chamber is working to help connect volunteers with businesses. For more information on the Tiger Teams program, email

Andrew Smith is a Real-Time Editor at WRTV. You can reach him on Facebook, Twitter, or at