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DeKalb businesses adjust to NIU summer schedule

Published: Thursday, May 22, 2014 4:37 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 22, 2014 9:55 p.m. CDT
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Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com General manager Cali Walker talks to the customers at the bar at Rosy's Roadhouse in DeKalb on Friday, May 16, 2014. Rosy's sees a decline in customers when Northern Illinois University students leave for the summer.

DeKALB – Rosy’s Roadhouse Bar and Grill manager Cali Walker figures the bar’s average Thursday night crowd drops from 550 during the collegiate school year to 100 during the summer.

At Rosy's, which is blocks from the Northern Illinois University campus, summer means reducing staff and hours to account for the reduced sales, said Walker. who has worked at the bar – formerly known as Starbusters – for the past five years.

The school-year staff of 15 to 20 people drops in the summer to three: a bartender, cook and security guard.

The bar also closes Sunday, Monday and Tuesday during the summer, meaning staff have to find other jobs while NIU students are away.

“During the school year, we’ve got a line out the door,” Walker said. “It’s one in, one out. We still have a pretty good dinner rush, but the late-night crowd isn’t there.”

But not every DeKalb business is rearranging like Rosy’s. When many NIU students leave for the summer, some DeKalb establishments notice a dramatic dip in business while others see a steady stream of DeKalb residents to replace the students.

The gap between spring semester ending in early May and summer classes starting mid-June presents the biggest challenge at Rosy’s.

Even when summer classes start, they bring in far fewer students. About 6,000 students are enrolled in summer classes, less than one-third of the 20,000 students enrolled during the regular school year.

“We knew to expect it, so we budget for the rest of the year,” Walker said. “Everyone knows to plan for it.”

And just because students aren’t taking classes, doesn’t mean they’re all fleeing DeKalb.

Townsend Management, which offers more than 300 apartments in DeKalb for rent, requires students to sign a year lease and pay for the summer months a year in advance, office assistant Jonetta Lyons said.

“It’s rare that students leave for the summer,” Lyons said.

Recent NIU graduate Ron Lapage had a summer job in Chicago throughout his college career. While he would live and work in Chicago during the week, he would return to DeKalb on the weekends, as would his three roommates

“You’d still go to some of those eating and drinking establishments,” Lapage said. “But it was pretty dead around here.”

Summer brings more customers into downtown tattoo and piercing shop Out on a Whim, owner Kenny Weinstock said. The shop sees a dip at the end of July for about two weeks, but for the rest of the summer, business still bustles.

“During the summer a lot of people want to get a tattoo or piercing, because it’s a fun summer thing to do,” Weinstock said. “We’ve always been very fortunate in the summer.”

At Fatty's Pub and Grille, the void left by college students is filled with locals, owner Jeff Dobie said. Locals also tend to spend more than the college students looking for a deal.

“Families come in and order what they want,” Dobie said. “Students come in and order what's on special.”

The Chicago Blackhawks and the World Cup bring in more customers in the summer while the beer garden draws a steady crowd, making July one the bar's strongest months.

“I actually love summer in DeKalb,” Dobie said.

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