A virtual fall quarter at Cal Poly could have economic impact on SLO businesses

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Posted at 6:54 PM, May 13, 2020

It's still unknown if fewer students will be coming back to San Luis Obispo in the fall as Cal Poly transitions to mostly virtual classes.

Some local business owners are bracing themselves for the rippling economic impact that could have.

"Cal Poly is a powerhouse of San Luis Obispo, so without the children, you don't get the parent. So it just has a trickle-down effect," said Hamish Marshall, co-owner of SLO Brew.

Marshall says fewer students could mean fewer people coming in for a drink and fewer people to serve those who do come in.

The company employs about 80 part-time Cal Poly students between their two locations, according to Marshall.

"It [would] make it very difficult for retailers, restaurateurs, hospitality industry -- they're a big part of our community, so it's gonna be an interesting time," Marshall said.

Nautical Bean co-owner Brett Jones believes a decrease in students in the fall would be similar to their summer season, with one caveat.

"We always kinda change our game plan every summer anyway to be able to compensate for that. The one thing we might not have is as many tourists. Who knows what that's gonna look like. Usually [they] compensate for the lack of students in the summertime, so we're just gonna take it day by day," Jones said.

The Downtown SLO association says students and their parents have big spending power downtown but their impacts are even greater.

"Cal Poly students work in our stores, they work in restaurants, they intern for our non-profit organizations, and they are our neighbors. We even have a dorm in downtown SLO," explained Bettina Swigger, CEO of Downtown SLO.

Swigger says there's concern students who do come back won't have the same habits as before the pandemic.

"So while we hope that they will be able to return and shop in our shops and dine in our restaurants, they may also be taking some safety and security precautions that might limit their ability to participate," she said.

Some business owners say if fewer Cal Poly students do return, it could open up more jobs to the community but not all of those jobs are high paying, head of household-type jobs.

The city of San Luis Obispo says it's unclear at this time the total dollar amount of the spending power students have in the city.

A city spokesperson says they "are in process of analyzing the financial impacts of various scenarios so that the city can be prepared."