Businesses woo students with special discounts

By Gwenn Barney

Freshman Nick Orenshaw learned quickly what it takes to get him into an Oakland… Freshman Nick Orenshaw learned quickly what it takes to get him into an Oakland eatery.

“It’s really just about quality and quantity. The places we go back to are places where we get a lot of food for a good price,” Orenshaw said.

Luckily for Orenshaw, the start of the school year is often the perfect time for the economically savvy to find deals at local businesses. Many Pittsburgh storefronts offer student specials at the beginning of the school year to get both new and returning students in the door. But occasionally these practices actually deter students.

Students spent about $246 million last year and are expected to spend similar amounts this year, according to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg’s 2009 Economic Impact Report.

The beginning of the fall semester typically marks an increase in potential customers, said Pitt economics professor Svitlana Maksymenko.

“Businesses might try to decrease their prices and earn profit by volume,” she said.

Pizza Sola uses such specials to try and draw students into their store.

“If you’re not advertising to students you’re losing out on a big market,” said general manager Stephen Eyring.

Eyring’s restaurant offers $7 pizzas to students after 8 p.m. He said that creating deals for students is especially important for pizza places, which are abundant in Oakland.

The Milk Shake Factory on the South Side also offers a deal to start off the year. Every Wednesday, the milkshake and chocolate provider offers a milkshake happy hour for students.

“We ran it during the summer and it was a huge success,” owner Christian Edwards said.

“We’ve decided to keep it around especially for the college students… so that they’ll visit us throughout the rest of their years here,” he said.

Snaring a purchase through student discounts does not always ensure a lifelong customer, though.  Freshman Katie Shockey is now wary of deals targeted towards students after a computer purchase cost more than she had expected.

Shokey calculated that she ended up paying more using the student discount than she would have at the original price.

Although the initial price was lower, “you end up paying more because [the computer company] added extra features you don’t need,” Shokey said.

One reason stores try to attract students to their establishments early is that students often form loyalties to given businesses.

Freshman Jon Krapf said that he has already found himself frequenting restaurants based on their popularity with upperclassmen.“The majority of the time someone will lead us to a place,” he said.

Other students find that their loyalties can change with lowering prices.

“If different places advertise better prices I’ll probably go there,” junior Caitlin Cleary said.

Red Oak Cafe on Forbes Avenue uses its image as a health-conscious restaurant to rope students in, one employee said. Red Oak employees try to establish a welcoming atmosphere and quality service to keep them coming.

“Because we’re an independent business we don’t have a corporate sponsor to send us extra food for give-aways,” restaurant manager Max Malle said.

Instead of drawing people in with free food, Red Oak relies on its exclusive menu options, such as the Oatie, an oatmeal smoothie.

The well-known Pittsburgh Stop outside vendor, which operates on the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard, gives out discount cards and coupons good for 10 percent off each purchase until July 2011.

Chas Bonasorte, the Stop’s owner, said this is the second year he has offered the discounts and that they are an effective way to bring in repeat customers who might otherwise not have visited as often.

“I’m getting the same girls’ faces 10, 15 times a year,” he said.

While business owners also plan ahead for when students aren’t around. Some places do this by making their specials available to the community beyond students.

“In general business owners understand that in Oakland you have a dramatic change in foot traffic over the year and they plan for that,” said Georgia Petropoulos Muir, executive director of the Oakland Business Improvement District.

Sorrento’s Pizza owner Aaron Price finds that by offering pizzas for $5 after 8 p.m. his business can maintain popularity with both students and Oakland residents alike.

“If you can tap into Oakland residency, when students go, we still have people down the street coming in,” Price said.