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12/25/2003

FRCC a boost for nearby businesses

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Choosing a location is a big decision for a small business owner. You do your due diligence — studying traffic patterns, examining the surrounding areas — and you make what you think is the best decision.

Then, sometimes, fate steps in and makes your decision seem even wiser.

When Front Range Community College announced plans to relocate to the south end of town earlier this year, it certainly got the attention of the business owners located near the office park where the college was going to be.

“Oh yeah, we’ve had people in from the community college,” said Anthony Andrist, owner of Backcountry Escape. “They come in here during their breaks and on their way to school.”

Andrist’s outdoors store at 1520 S. Hover Road has always had a pretty good location. Located in the southeast corner of the Village at Burlington for the past three years, Backcountry Escape sits near one of the busiest intersections in town, and gets good visibility from people driving by on south Hover Street Street and from people stopped at its intersection with the Diagonal Highway.

But it’s one thing to be able to set up tents outside your doors to attract customers, and it’s another to have the fastest growing community college campus in the state relocate right into your back yard.

“I was pretty excited about having more young people in here,” said Andrist. “I think it’s a good mix, too, because we have the coffee shop next door and the Himalayas Restaurant over here, and we’re right in the middle.”

Since FRCC moved into its new 118,000-square-foot campus just over the railroad tracks from the Village, spillover from students and faculty into the businesses was inevitable. John Poynton, spokesman for FRCC, said enrollment is currently running about 10 percent above what it was last fall, and it’s still a few weeks out from the enrollment deadline. Currently, there are more than 2,000 students planning to attend next semester.

Poynton said he’s observed people enrolling with bags in their hands from Dillard’s and J.C. Penney Co. Inc., indicating that Twin Peaks Mall is getting some of the student traffic, too.

“I’ve had lunch four times in the last two months at (Himalayas),” Poynton said. And he said Border’s, on the west side of Hover Street several blocks from the college, has decided to underwrite the literary journal FRCC publishes.

But the overall economic impact after the first semester in FRCC’s new location has been mixed so far.

“We aren’t seeing a great impact here,” said Adam Thimsen, general manager of Red Lobster. “We’ve seen a couple of students coming in here at lunch and studying — opening a book and stuff.

“We do have some servers and hostesses that work here (that attend the school).”

Thimsen said he has been considering tweaking his restaurant’s marketing campaign to appeal more to the student crowd — emphasizing the all-you-can-eat soup, salad and bread lunch for $5.99.

“I don’t know that a lot of students know we have an affordable lunch,” he said.

One big advantage of having the college nearby is for some of his employees, Thimsen said. Last year, the company paid for several of its workers to attend FRCC’s English-as-a-second language classes, and they had to go to Gunbarrel to do it. This year, it’s about a quarter-mile walk. “I had at least eight people take advantage of that,” said Thimsen.

If there were any big winner among the merchants, you would expect it to be the local coffee shop.

“Business is definitely up,” said Mandy Godown, an employee at the Brewing Market, taking a break after making an espresso. “I’ve seen a continual increase in the amount of people coming in here, but it’s hard to translate that to more students.

“We get some kids on break that run over here and rush back — we get a few that do that regularly.”

But she adds that she’s not sure if that’s a huge part of the store’s clientele, since the store doesn’t quiz everyone who comes in the door. One of her co-workers, Mac Laws, had a different theory on the nearby student body and the Brewing Market.

“I’d say mainly because it’s a community college, most of the people going there don’t have the money to spend $3 on a latte,” he said.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.