Hillsborough Street businesses hope for bump as NC State students return

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022
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After nearly two years of semesters largely affected by the pandemic, businesses near NC State University are excited for the beginning of the semester.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- After nearly two years of semesters largely affected by the pandemic, businesses near NC State University are excited for the beginning of the semester.

"Summer, we only get 10-15 customers a day. But yesterday, we had like 40 customers," sad Ehhser Htoo, Manager of Bul Box.

The restaurant opened its Hillsborough Street location across from NC State's campus in February and has four students on staff.

"They also learn how to work while at school, and learn (about) business. It's also good for our company, so students gain experience and they can share (information about us) with their friends," Htoo said.

Off-camera, another restaurant owner on Horne Street said all but one of their staffers are students, and they hope to hire more in the coming weeks.

"The university is the basic economic engine for Hillsborough Street, and the students, faculty and staff are what really drives commerce in our community," said Jeff Murison, President and CEO of Live It Up! Hillsborough Street.

The organization represents several businesses along the stretch.

"Our food and beverage sales are now consistently above our 2019 levels, pre-pandemic levels. And our foot traffic has bounced back," said Murison.

Still, some businesses see significant dips during the summer and holidays, when students and faculty leave campus. To combat that, they are working on marketing efforts targeting nearby residential neighborhoods to try to expand their bases. One such program, the $4 Food Walk, encouraged customers to try different restaurants during the summer for a reduced price.

"We stay busy during the summer, so it's still a very diverse customer. We get a lot of people off their morning commute off of 440," said Ashley Faries, the owner and operator of Lucky Tree, a coffee shop across from Meredith College.

Tuesday afternoon was busy, with many customers enjoying a drink while reading or on their laptops. Faries discussed the impact students have on her business.

"We just had an event last night, that was 30-some artists out. The students definitely make up a great part of that community. And so we get to benefit from being a part of the whole beautiful community that surrounds us at both colleges," Faries said.

Saturday, Packapalooza will return for the first time since 2019, celebrating its 10th year. Several businesses are planning on participating in the welcome back event for students, which will feature a performance by the band American Aquarium; the band was originally formed at NC State.