A new retail location at the University of Tennessee is raising concerns among local merchants who rely on student purchases to drive business. But the campus is taking a proactive approach, planning to introduce an off-campus merchant program via the student ID.
Owners on Cumberland Avenue, a merchant strip near the Knoxville campus, were reportedly working up a letter to be sent to the university detailing their disapproval over plans to set up a new store in the area. In addition to standard payments, the new location would also accept Vol Card payments that enable students to make purchases at campus bookstores, clothing shops and restaurants.
In an attempt to strike a balance between the campus and its surrounding community, however, local NBC affiliate WBIR reports that the university already planned to enable these off-campus businesses to accept Vol Card dollars, in essence leveling the playing field and paving the way for more students purchases in these locations.
Rob Wynkoop, owner of Gyrene Burger Company is just one of the local merchants that is eager to have students spending Vol Card dollars in his restaurant. By his estimation, both sides have something to gain. “There are thousands of students that use the Vol Card on a daily basis – students who may have money on their card, but no cash in their pocket,” says Wynkoop.
Student business is pivotal for another local eatery, Niro’s Gyros, where Emad Aljaber offers a discount to get students in his shop. “We need as much student business as we can get,” he says.
Aljaber believes that in addition to the business it drives locally, more locations mean more freedom of choice for students. “Students want to have more options to eat around here, not just ‘hey I’ve got this store and that’s where you can eat,’” he says.
A spokesperson for the university says that the new Cumberland Avenue building should be ready for customers in time for the the Volunteers’ first football game on August 31st. The building will contain a Panda Express, Raising Cain’s and an extension of the university’s Vol Shop.
The University of Tennessee is currently trying to find a vendor that will sign merchants and grow the acceptance of Vol Card dollars.