On Tuesday, February 7, Colgate students crowded around an O’Connor Campus Center (Coop) table attempting to secure one of 500 trial Student Discount cards. Those who made the cut became eligible for a 10 percent discount on food at eight participating restaurants in Hamilton village: the Barge Canal Coffee Company, Rusch’s Bar & Grill, La Iguana, Nichols and Beal, the Hamilton Inn, the Colgate Inn, Hamilton Whole Foods and the Seven Oaks Clubhouse.
“The current card is a one-month promotion lasting from February 7 until March 7,” senior and co-chair of the External Affairs Committee (EAC) Jordan Sheiner said. “Our hope is that the card is effective, and therefore will lead to a more permanent discount card that we can use. We also hope this is a way that the school can work more effectively with Hamilton businesses. It’s really a huge step forward in Colgate-town relations, which our committee seeks to improve.”
Although the Colgate student population makes up an important sector of the Hamilton consumer market, there have not been any comparable initiatives until now.
“So many other universities have similar student discount programs, and it is time that Colgate has one, too,” sophomore and EAC co-chair Pamela Duncan said.
For this initial one-month trial, members of the Student Government Association (SGA) are distributing the discount cards on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“We purposely gave out the cards [this way]…We want to give the cards to the students that really want them and the students who are going out of their way to get them, because those are the students who are going to use them,” Sheiner said. This method should go beyond equal-access to have practical ramifications – the more students that use these trial cards, the more likely it is that the Hamilton Business Association (HBA) will back a more permanent program.
“The current discount runs Monday through Wednesday, which are the slow times for the places downtown,” Duncan said. “If the restaurants notice that the card increases their revenues on even the slowest days of the week, they will consider extending the discount to the weekends as well. Basically, if students embrace this trial run and use the card downtown, the student discount card will become permanent.”
“This initiative has been in the works for a few years,” Sheiner said. “For some reason, the EAC has not been able to complete the discount card in the past. Last semester, our committee sought to solve this issue…We have been working on it specifically for a few months now.”
This time, EAC members reached out directly to the HBA, allowing more straightforward communication between the Hamilton business community and SGA.
“The HBA is an organization of the members working for the members. We basically work in representing the downtown business interests to the local village and town governments, the college, and Partnership for Community Development,” HBA President and Colgate Inn General Manager Ben Eberhardt said.
Eberhardt, who was in close contact with Sheiner during the development of this idea, seems excited about the prospects of this initiative. According to the businessman, there are several reasons why the time is ripe for such an incentive – and why it has taken so long to be piloted.
The economic downturn produced a harsh climate for businesses in town. They have all been through a tough time, and continue to struggle to this day. However, this challenge ushered with it some sense of unity, as well.
“There have been a lot of new and positive supporting relationships established downtown amongst the businesses as we all went through the downturn. I think it became very clear to many that we all have a mutual goal… we all need and want to make Hamilton thrive,” Eberhardt said.
“Further, the village might be feeling a bit of a new economic bustle from patronage attracted by Colgate, local Hamiltonians and even regionally,” Eberhardt said. “Hamilton appears to be becoming a bit more popular…I think the businesses feel the possibility and perhaps have a sense of new confidence and therefore might be more comfortable investing into a program that helps the positive new growth in Hamilton.”
Most importantly, Eberhardt focused on the risky nature of creating a student discount program. Theoretically, if the trial produces a deficit, the local businesses will have to absorb it. This creates a serious cost-benefit question in an economy in which all of the businesses’ costs are rising, and they depend heavily on annual revenues.
“It’s a measured risk for each local business to discount what they already planned to earn for the year,” Eberhardt said. “This essentially becomes an investment in the students that should, if it works, bring more people down to eat and thus yield growth in business downtown. In order for this to be a success, the businesses will need to see and feel new growth.”
This trial period should build confidence in the initiative, but also reveal any logistical problems.
“The current card functions as a ‘punch card.’ Each time a student uses their card in one of the eight locations, it will be stamped or punched. However, the card can be used for a total of four people. So if four students that are friends receive a card, they can essentially get 10% off at a restaurant four different times,” Sheiner explained.
“[The initiative] may not work in its current configuration,” Eberhardt said. “We may have to tweak this effort a few times before it really works.” However, if the cards do end up being mutually beneficial, both the EAC and the HBA will be working to expand the concept.
Contact Rebekah Ward at [email protected]