By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal
The news that the College Corner Cafe had shut down, even if it is temporary, was disappointing to hear. I was a frequent customer of the CCC and I heartily enjoyed the South Austin Burger and onion rings. It’s a shame that the investors pulled out. I understand the difficulty in opening a restaurant in today’s economic climate.
But the CCC’s closing brings up a broader question that Commerce will need to answer soon. The presence of Texas A&M University-Commerce is often seen as a huge economic plus for the city, and I have no doubt that the university definitely helps the city attract new business and increases the sales taxes the city collects. The school has more than 11,000 enrolled and hundreds of faculty and staff.
However, most faculty live somewhere other than Commerce, and many of them live in Rockwall. They therefore do not stimulate the local economy as much as if they lived in Commerce and paid local property taxes. Not that I blame them. Rockwall is a pretty cool place, and it’s proximity to Dallas allows the spouses of A&M-Commerce employees to work in the DFW area without an incredibly long commute.
Of the 11,000+ students at A&M-Commerce, only about 2,500 actually live on campus. The university is committed to increasing that number to about 4,500 to 5,000 in the near future, and there are thousands of students that live in the city of Commerce and attend the university, but thousands more commute, go to one of the satellite campuses, or take online classes.
My point is that A&M-Commerce is not an economic genie that will help Commerce out of the tough economic state many Texas cities find themselves in. During my four years and the university I have often heard students complain that there is nothing to do during the weekend, so they often go home or spend money in Dallas. This makes it difficult for businesses that cater primarily to students, like the CCC, to make a profit, particularly over the summer when most students are back home.
So, in the end, it’s a vicious cycle. Business that cater to students can’t stay open if students don’t stick around Friday through Sunday to spend money. And students will continue to spend their money in their hometowns or in Dallas unless there are attractions to keep them in Commerce.
The real trick to keeping a business afloat in Commerce is catering to Commerce citizens and students, which is difficult to do. As great as A&M-Commerce is for the city, there are still challenges to harnessing the spending power of the 11,000+ students that attend, and until the weekend culture that pervades university students changes, the two great halfs of the Commerce community will remain disconnected.