What some local residents view as a nuisance is a welcome sight to local business owners. Georgia Southern students have returned in record numbers for Fall semester bringing their pocket books and wallets with them.
"If anybody here wants to say anything about a Georgia Southern student, they will have to take it up with me," said Craig Deal, owner of Deal's Furniture, Mattress Outlet, and Gift Shop on Highway 67 South. "I don't want to hear it. They pump so much money into our local economy, it is incredible. I understand that it averages one million dollars a day when school is in session."
According to a study released by Georgia Southern’s Bureau of Business Research and Development (BBRED) in 2007, the University pumped $719,233,212 into the economies of nine Southeast Georgia counties in 2006-2007. Whether those numbers are accurate or not is inconsequential to local business owners. They only know that Georgia Southern students are extremely important to the livelihood of their businesses, and many wouldn't survive without them.
"On sorority rush bid day, we had the largest single sales day any Barberitos has ever had," said Jeremy Coulter, owner of Barberitos restaurant in the Market District. "We catered the event attended by over 750 people. It was a phenomenal day for us, and all because of Georgia Southern."
Coulter said he has a number of professionals that eat at his restaurant during the day, but students and their eating schedules are just different.
"They eat all of the time," he said. "At three in the afternoon, late at night, it doesn't matter, they are always eating, and that is very good for us. We really, really miss them when school is not in session. I honestly didn't know the economic impact the students make until my wife and I opened up this restaurant. They are a breath of fresh air."
Deal said he sells hundreds of mattresses to students each year representing well over 25 percent of his mattress business in a relatively short period of time.
"The push begins in late June running right up until the start of school," he said. "We are really, really busy, and it is almost exclusively students. We have parents that come in to buy furniture and such for their children, and then turn around and buy stuff for themselves and haul it back to Atlanta or wherever. It just multiplies."
Robbie Richardson, owner of Hugo's Restaurant in downtown Statesboro, said he saw a noticeable difference when the public school system started its new academic year at the beginning of August.
"I guess it isn't just college students that leave," Richardson said. "It is professors and folks that service the University. When their children start back to school, they come back and bring the business with them. However, that isn't nearly as impactful as when Georgia Southern students come back. I mean look around, look at all of the students that are eating in here."
Richardson said local restaurants plan for a drop in business over the summer, but were blindsided this year by the increased cost of food.
"It's one thing to anticipate a slowdown, but the rise in the cost of food we couldn't and didn't plan for," he said. "It has been a very hard summer for everyone. The last two weeks have truly been a blessing. Thank you Georgia Southern and welcome back."
Serenity Day Spa and Salon owner Karen Lambert said the absence of university students impacts the salon's younger stylists the most.
"Those stylists depend on the student population because that is the demographic of their customer, so it is slow for them in the summer," she said. "It is a rough few weeks, but they manage. I know how glad they are when everyone comes back for school."
Deal said he doesn't understand some people's perceptions of the students admitting a few "bad apples" seem to grab all of the attention.
"Almost all of the kids that come in here are very, very nice and polite," he said. "I know there are a few bad ones out there, but most of them are just great. We are truly blessed to have an economic engine like Georgia Southern University. I believe that with all of my heart."