Businesses ready for college crowd

Will the students from USF St. Petersburg's first dorm head downtown with their dollars?

Published August 13, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG -- First it began construction of its first dormitory. Later it gained independence from the rest of the University of South Florida. So the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has the potential to turn this once sleepy town into a full-fledged college mecca.

Businesses in the 200 block of Central Avenue, only five blocks from the dorm, say they are ready and willing to take on the youthful wave.

Jessica Cataldo said she knows exactly what college towns are good for: business.

"I'm from Boston and that's a big college town," Cataldo said. "The businesses do well there and it would be great for everyone."

The owner of Look, a hair and nail studio, on Central Avenue, Cataldo suspects that her close proximity to campus will send her already busy business into overdrive. But she's not complaining.

"I'll hire more people, if I have to," Cataldo said.

Other Central Avenue businesses said having youth around may make life a little more difficult than before.

Donna Burch manages Detroit Liquor and Wine and said she realizes if St. Petersburg became a college town, she'd have to keep her eyes on the customers constantly.

"It will definitely make my job a lot harder because we'll have to card, card, card," Burch admitted. "We already have a few underage kids who try to come in and buy liquor because of the concert venue nearby, so I know that dorms may bring many more."

But for party hardy students who are 21 and over, Detroit Liquors will be open to the new customers.

"We're always open from 8 a.m. to midnight and I'm sure we'll be busy the whole time once this school year is under way," Burch said.

One business seems to think its novelty will create a revenue boost when the college crowd comes to town.

"We're the only healthy cafe downtown so the students who don't want fast food can come here," said Mickey Paleologos, owner of Central Cafe and Organics. "I think it will be a great thing for the downtown because it will get different cultures in here."

Paleologos remembers when the downtown used to be populated mainly by the elderly and said that a change-up to students would be good for the emerging community.

"The older people want to keep the town to themselves but this town is definitely growing," Paleologos said. "The great thing about it is the younger people will probably come here to college and grow old in this town."

USF St. Petersburg's Phase One dormitory is scheduled to open Aug. 23 but is not yet full. It can house 354 students.

Despite that, the school is still forecasting expansion for the future, said Julie Booth, university spokesperson.

Burch added, "It won't be that big a change. It's pretty much like a college town around here on the weekends already."