Surviving summer: a look at local businesses around VCU

Local businesses around VCU do better than you think during slow summer months.

Despite the heat, the diminished student population, and the now endless stream of construction projects around the VCU area, local businesses are doing surprisingly well during the “off season.”

Five years ago this wouldn’t have been the case, Patrick Godfrey of Velocity Comics says. During his first few years in business, Godfrey said nearly half of all his customers came from the VCU community. “When summer would hit a lot of them would disperse and we’d just have to hunker down and kind of hibernate,” Godfrey said.

But over the years, many local business have developed a steady customer base that they say is unique to the community outside of and around VCU.

Owner Luke Stevens of Bunnyhop Bike Shop says that although he is dependent on the VCU community, his business doesn’t disappear completely during the summer months because demand for bike products and services remains somewhat constant.

“People that need service on their bike are pretty much just going to get it regardless,” he said. “There’s still a ton of people here and we don’t really see a huge drop in business.”

Even though Bunny Hop and VCU have a good relationship (including contracts with VCU Police, the school’s outdoor adventure center, and their sustainability program), Stevens says the construction around his business is making the summer months harder than usual.

“The construction has really been the most trying thing so far,” Stevens said. “With the street closures, graduations at the Siegel Center, and essentially the entire front wall of our business has been blocked off … It’s wild.”

But despite the summer months and the pressures around irksome construction, “We probably would not be a profitable business without them,” Stevens said.

Across the street, Ipanema owner Kendra Feather says that the university expansion has had mixed effects on her business.

“VCU is kind of growing around us,” Feather said.

Feather said that in the beginning, her business was not at all dependent on the VCU community, but as the university started growing around her it became harder for people who weren’t a part of the VCU world to come to the restaurant.

“Sometimes summer is actually better for us.”

Little Mexico, a staple Mexican restaurant in the VCU community also feels the effects of the university’s presence (or lack thereof) during the summer.

“We depend on (the students) coming in…a lot,” said owner Rosie Garcia. “We definitely notice a change and a shift from when they come here and when they’re in the summer.”

But even with a lack of students, the business is able to fare well during the summer months, according to Garcia. The range of daily specials and the developing community of customers in the Fan has been able to sustain Little Mexico during the summer, which Garcia said is a big part of why she choses to stay near to campus.

“Everyday we have something different so we try to cater not only to VCU students but to people that work in offices and…that live in this area,” she said. “I think that we’ve kind of adapted to being in this area and the people and being so accepted in this community that I would not want to be in any other location.”

Businesses like Garcia’s and Godfreys still look forward to the students coming back in the fall. The two busiest times for Velocity Comics are late August and September, when most students return for the new semesters.

“When the kids come back they’ve got student loan money in their pocket ready to burn, and it’s a beautiful time,” Godfrey said.

Bunnyhop Bike Shop plans to move to 349 S. Laurel in Oregon Hill on August 1 to continue to expand at an affordable price.

Photo by: eli.pousson

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