UCM students have big impact on ‘Burg

Photo and story by Kristin Gallagher, digitalBURG

Darci Dyer, a junior at UCM, stays in Warrensburg for the summer to keep her job at Parker’s Supermarket.

(WARRENSBURG, Mo.) – It’s a Friday night and the faint sound of music bumps from Molly’s bar at Pine and Holden streets. Steady conversations float down the street from groups of people on the patio of Fitter’s Pub. The lights in Sharkeez are off. Bodie’s walk-through food window is sealed shut. An anonymous person sends out a tweet online:

“Only two bars open during the summer. When did Warrensburg get so lame?”

It is summertime in Warrensburg, and a major component of the town is missing – the students.

Staying for the summer

School resumes for the University of Central Missouri Aug. 21, and Warrensburg’s streets are becoming more crowded.

But between May and August, UCM releases its students for the summer and things quiet down. While a majority of these students leave town and head back to their families, some stay to attend summer courses, train for sports and keep local jobs.

A total of 11,637 students were enrolled in fall 2011 at UCM, and some 4,700 were here for summer classes that year. Some of those students commuted rather than reside in the Warrensburg area.

Amanda Moore, 21, is from Odessa, but she chooses to stay in Warrensburg for the summer to keep her local job at a grocery store.

“I have to keep my job for the fall,” she said. “I don’t mind living in Warrensburg for the summer. It is better than being back home for three months. But I cannot wait for school to start back up, actually. I miss all of my friends.”

Some students do not get the option to leave Warrensburg for the summer because they live here. Garett Larson, 20, has lived in Warrensburg for 12 years. He attends college to play football for the Mules and lives at home with his parents.

“This will be the 13th summer I have spent in Warrensburg,” he said. “There is absolutely nothing to do in the summer. If you want to have a good time, you better make a good time.”

And so there is Pine Street.

Bar street in the summertime

College students crowd the Pine Street area during the fall and spring semesters. With eight bars, the downtown area is a popular place for college students, especially Thursday through Saturday.

“We get a lot of 21st birthday parties,” said Scott Michael, bartender and manager of Fitter’s. “They drink here and then roam the streets to other bars.”

But even with the loss of students in the summer, Fitter’s stays busy.

“We are pretty busy all year-round, actually,” Michael said. “In the summer, we deal with big groups of alumni and class reunions.”

Still, Pine Street is not only for college students on “Thirsty Thursdays.” Downtown is a draw for tourism, and Pine Street is currently being renovated to upgrade the infrastructure and match the period lights and sidewalk designs throughout downtown.

Warrensburg Main Street Inc. is dedicated to bringing awareness and activities to the downtown area.

“We do what is called Third Thursdays,” said Julie Turnipseed, director of Main Street. “It is the third Thursday of every month and we host activities downtown. Last month was hot dogs and cool cars. This month will be the dog days of summer. During the fall semester, we will host The Nace Brothers.”

So, with the desire to preserve the downtown area, the question is, how do students fit into the equation?

“The students definitely have a huge economic impact…when they are here, and that dynamic affects the whole downtown area… the students are a great thing for this town,” Turnipseed said.

Summer business in the ‘Burg

Without a doubt, the UCM student population is a staple of the Warrensburg economy.

“We miss the students in the summer,” said Parker McNeel, owner of Parker’s Supermarket. “We certainly have a strong base of community that shop with us, but the students do have a big impact.”

Businesses such as Maurices and Impulse also see a difference in customer base when the spring semester ends.

“It is somewhat slower in the summer,” said Mollie Hutcheson, assistant manager of Maurices. “It’s always nice (during the fall) because we get to see new faces and new customers who discover us when they get here…This is such a small town, so the college livens it up a little.”

Employees at Impulse notice the loss in business when the students leave for summer.

“We notice a downturn in June specifically,” said Guy Albert, owner of Impulse. “When the students are here, we do several things to reach out to them, such as offer coupons and parties for sororities.”

Most of these business owners reach out to students because the students make up a large part of their customer base.

“Certainly the university is a major plus in our community, period,” Albert said. “Being downtown in our location, students have to pass us to get downtown.”

And with a campus full of college students comes big appetites. Restaurants are hit hard with the dismissal of classes for the summer.

“We are a lot slower during the summer months,” said Anthony Wilson, store manager at Papa John’s. “Kids love pizza.”

Taco Bell certainly misses a dedicated customer base when the students are away.

“We lose a few thousand or so customers during the summer,” said Kristi Moon, general manager of Taco Bell. “We get a pretty good bar rush during the school year. The weekends, Thursday through Saturday, is the busiest for us.”

But it is not only the revenue that these establishments miss. It’s also the staffing.

“We hire quite a few college students on staff,” Moon said. “They like to work the part-time jobs.”

And with busy weekends, comes busy law enforcement.

Crime on the rise

While the Warrensburg community is relatively safe, there is a slight increase in crimes when the university is in session.

“We are always concerned about alcohol-related incidents,” said Bruce Howey, Warrensburg police chief.

During the 2011 fall and spring semesters, there were 76 incidents of minors in possession of alcohol, as opposed to 24 incidents in the summertime. There were 65 charges of driving while intoxicated in the 2011 school year, as opposed to 27 during that summer.

“A lot of times these kinds of incidents can increase involvement with criminal activity,” Howey said. “Alcohol is a constant problem.”

When it comes to the spring and fall semesters, Howey said his officers take special care to scope out every incident reported.

“We would much rather check and find nothing wrong than to find a problem later,” he said.

And it is no surprise that most of these problems are caused by the 18 to 24 age group, Howey said.

“That is a highly active age group,” he said. “Good portion of our incident numbers is from that group.”

Although there is a dramatic difference in incidents during the school year, there are more than 10,000 students attending UCM. There is also a longer time span between semester months than summer months.

“You see the statistical change there,” Howey said. “With the increased number of people, you see an increased number of incidents…But still, many people see it very beneficial to have a university here to breathe life into our community.”

Bringing it all home

One of the main charges of the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce is to promote tourism in town. The university plays a major role in tourism.

“It is actually really busy here (in the summer), especially with all the camps UCM hosts,” said Kristi Eckfeld of the Chamber’s tourism department. “We get a lot of parents bringing new students in.”

Eckfeld said she is always looking to welcome students to the community and to alert businesses of when the busy days are going to be on campus so they can be prepared.

“Our hotels are already booked for family weekend and homecoming,” said Tammy Long, Chamber president.

The Chamber receives a lodging tax to help promote tourism. This is a 2 percent tax for all hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts.

“The biggest thing is that people know that Kristi is here,” Long said. “If there is an event or group of people coming in, she can alert local businesses and let them know so they can accommodate.”

“If we work together to get people aware, it will benefit the whole community,” Eckfeld said. “We will look more prepared.”

Warrensburg is a college town, but it is not only a college town. It is also a diverse, proud town, and a destination for tourists.

“Warrensburg is a university town,” McNeel said. “And we are fortunate to have that in our population…this is a great place to live.”