Oakland’s businesses adapt to fewer students in summer


Co-owner of Groceria Merante, Filomena Merante, interacts with a customer over the deli counter in March. She says the store thrives in the summer, even with less students around. (TPN File Photo)

By Henry Glitz | News Editor

The warm summer sun beat down this week as business owners across Oakland opened their doors for a day mostly like any other day. The only difference was a conspicuous lack of their main customers — students.

Mid-July is undeniably a relatively quiet time of the year in Oakland. With just a few summer sessions going on at Pitt and many off-campus leases ending at the end of the month, many of the neighborhood’s houses stand temporarily unoccupied.

But as Filomena Merante, co-owner of Groceria Merante at the corner of Bates Street and McKee Place in Central Oakland, chatted with customers and flitted between shelves in her store yesterday, she hardly gave the impression of idleness.

“We get a lot of visitors to the city coming here,” she said. “Just last week, for the [Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix,] we had a lot of people coming over.”

According to Merante, the store’s fast pace of business over the weekend for the Grand Prix isn’t out of the ordinary during the summer months. Groceria Merante, which relies throughout the year on a customer base that’s a mix of students and permanent residents of the neighborhood, doesn’t necessarily depend on the presence of the entire student body to turn a profit.

What’s more, Merante said, the students who are more likely to frequent the store stay during the summer anyway.

“A few years ago, there was a difference in business [between the school year and the summer,]” she said. “Now everybody’s here for the summer.”

Another Oakland business, Dave and Andy’s Homemade Ice Cream parlor on Atwood Street, sees the summer as prime time to sell its product. Andrew Hardie, who owns Dave and Andy’s, said the summer months are among his business’ best.

“This is our time of the year,” Hardie said. “I’m sure we’d be busier if students were still here, but we get plenty of business as it is.”

Long lines leading out through the ice cream parlor’s familiar green front door persist through the hot months, making the summer months the shop’s busiest, even with the decreased Oakland population.

“This is our busy season, so we don’t offer much in the ways of discounts or any special promotions,” he said.

However, other store owners in the area who rely more exclusively on student support, like Frenchi’s Deli and Market on Atwood Street, see a much bigger shift in their day-to-day business practices.

“This is a student’s spot,” Sid Ali, who owns Frenchi’s, said. “When Pitt closes its doors for the summer, it slows down here too.”

Sid Ali, owner of Frenchi’s Deli and Market, makes a wrap behind the store’s counter in March. (Photo by John Hamilton | Editor-In-Chief)

Ali, whose business is located much farther down Atwood Street from the main roadways of Forbes and Fifth Avenues, said business around lunchtime — already slower than the evening during the school year — becomes even scarcer during the summer.

“It’s another world,” he said. “There are some days when I just think, ‘Damn, why did I open today?’”

To stay afloat during the long summer months, Ali typically shortens the store’s open hours. He also relies on familiar faces more than when fall and spring classes are in session. Some, he said, even come to visit from other states.

Despite sometimes having to resort to unorthodox methods to stay commercially active, Frenchi’s also has its fair share of fluctuations in the number of customers throughout the summer. While weekdays can often drag on for hours without a single customer, the weekends are often as busy as they are during the school year.

Ali said the few days before Independence Day specifically were some of the busiest since the end of final exams in April.

“On the Fourth, we were busy until maybe seven or eight in the morning,” he said.

When it’s not quite so busy, Ali said he stocks the shelves, cleans, updates his business’ presence on social media and prepares the store for the return of the whole student body to Oakland in late August. Among the planned new additions to the store is a crepe maker — something Ali says will give returning students something new to look forward to.

“When they come back, I want to get them excited,” he said.

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