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Small college towns miss their students

by Joshua Greene


(May 26) GLENVILLE -- A small town tucked in the curves of Gilmer County's mountains lost nearly half of its residents last week.

The streets, once packed with cars and people and noise, are now quiet, parking is plentiful and several remaining inhabitants say they welcome back the peace and quiet.

Glenville State College let out for the summer in early May and most of its 1,700 students vacated. Glenville only has 1,923 residents, according to the 1990 census.

The difference in the town is dramatic, according to a bartender in The Main Event, a local tavern that caters to the college crowd.

Several nights a week, when school is in session, more than 300 students patronize the bar to drink, shoot pool and socialize.

"I miss the college kids," said Bill Stout, one of the two customers in The Main Event last week.

Stout is the owner of the local True Value Hardware store and said the loss is felt "not only businesswise, but just in having the people around. We have some good college kids."

Gilmer County Clerk Louella Stallnaker agreed.

"Oh, my. They're our most important asset around here," she said. "As far as businesses go, it's hard on them."

Stallnaker said it's hard to explain, but she also misses "just seeing them around."

In Upshur County, about an hour from Glenville, Mike Oldaker, the owner of The Bookstore in Buckhannon, described this change in environment as a loss of energy.

Much like Glenville, Buckhannon, with a population of 5,909, experienced a significant population decrease as most of its 1,600 students from West Virginia Wesleyan College left for the summer.

Oldaker said his business, the oldest one in Buckhannon, isn't hurt by diminished student sales. Teachers from the college and travelers purchase more during the summer.

The students, however, do enrich the community, he said.

"You sit on your front porch with your kids and you see people of different nationalities (walking by). You see oddities, too," he said of the variances in college students' clothing. "It adds color."

During the summer, Oldaker said he changes his stock at The Bookstore. He carries more Appalachian literature for travelers tracing their roots.

But businesses like C.J. Maggies, several doors down, take a hard hit during the summer months. During the school year the restaurant is the main hangout for WVWC's students. When the students leave, business slows down.

"It's not like we empty out completely and go dead, but it's tough during the summer months," Jim Hatch, the restaurant's office manager, said. "I'd say our business is about 20 percent below average (during June, July and August). All of our staffing, year around, is flexible," he said.

"We do staffing reductions based on volume," he added.

Despite the loss of students at Davis & Elkins in Elkins, Hatch said the restaurant there does more business during the summer because of the Augusta Festival in late July, travelers and its proximity to golf resorts.

Hank "Bear" Ullman, who oversees both the Buckhannon and Elkins C.J. Maggies, said there are some advantages to the colleges letting out for summer.

"We get a buttload of cheap labor," he said. "May is a great month. We get twice the applicants in the first two weeks of May."

And working around college students' class schedules during the year is also "much more of an issue."

Two blocks away, waiting tables at The Ole Mill in Buckhannon, Angel Rowand and her husband, Larry, said that while "overall, the majority of the college students are nice, polite, friendly people," they look forward to the peace and quiet summer brings.

"When we had Halloween decorations up, they would steal them and string them up Ñ all down Main Street. Once we found someone passed out in the back seat of our car. And if the front door (of the house) was open at 1 in the morning, people would come up and ask, 'Y'all having a party?'"

Martha Tackett, the owner of The Ole Mill, agreed that most of the students are pleasant, but she said the absence of the 3:30 a.m. fraternity parties will not be missed during the summer.

"They are loud," she said.

She said her business doesn't fluctuate much during the summer because her customers are mostly of locals.

"Our slowest time is like January and February and college is in then."