Kent businesses thrive during homecoming

Sarah Steimer

This year’s Homecoming, as in many years past, will prove to be a great celebration – for local businesses.

“Homecoming weekend translates into the ringing of cash registers in downtown,” said Dan Smith, economic development director for the city of Kent. Although there are no specific data on how well Kent establishments do during the yearly celebration, Smith said the weekend always proves to create a “huge surge” in business.

An estimated 10,000 alumni return to Kent every year for Homecoming, said Nancy Schiappa, associate director of alumni relations outreach. That, in addition to the already busy downtown weekend scene, should make for good profits Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Mike Thomas, manager at Ray’s Place on Franklin Avenue, said the majority of the restaurant and bar’s business during Homecoming weekend comes from alumni – about 90 percent of it, he estimates.

“They start coming in around suppertime on Friday and then stay into the night,” Thomas said. “They’re here Saturday all day.” He said Ray’s will be decorated with Kent State paraphernalia and will offer a commemorative glass.

The Pufferbelly, located across the street from Ray’s, is also expecting a large turnout, said owner Kevin Long. Although the restaurant will see a spike in customers, Long said Saturday – game day – is always the busiest. Overall, the Pufferbelly usually has about a 15 to 20 percent increase in sales during Homecoming weekend compared to average weekends, he said.

Even some newer businesses in Kent are beginning to notice an increase in alumni visitors during weekend celebration.

“For us being relatively new – we’ve been here about eight years – Homecoming becomes bigger and bigger every year as our patrons become alumni,” said Mike Beder, Water Street Tavern owner. “We do really well, we see a lot of familiar faces.

The Water Street Tavern, located on South Water Street, will have events for specific alumni, such as a Greek alumni happy hour and a cheerleader alumni party, both on Friday evening. The bar will also host Kent State alumni and Cleveland Browns players Joshua Cribbs and Abram Elam.

This year’s Homecoming is the first year alumni will get a chance to see the new Acorn Alley.

Jenna Heinaman, manager of Off the Wagon, a novelty toy store at one end of the alley, said the store is opening an hour early on Saturday as they expect an influx of alumni exploring the new area.

“I think alumni will very excited to see Acorn Alley,” said Mary Gilbert, Main Street Kent executive director. “But we also still have the old standards everyone loves.”

Not only downtown businesses are benefitting from the popularity of homecoming weekend. Local hotels get their fair share of traffic as well.

“Homecoming weekend has always been a very strong weekend for us,” said Reg Thayer, Holiday Inn Express general manager. The hotel, located on Sanctuary View Drive off state Route 43, has had every room booked for this weekend for about four weeks, Thayer said.

Contact public affairs reporter Sarah Steimer at [email protected].