Local businesses get boost when Tarleton is in session

JESSIE HORTON jessie.horton@empiretribune.com

Despite the disadvantages of the growing population, like traffic, the city of Stephenville owes credit for quite a bit of its growth to Tarleton State University.

The school, founded in 1899 and officially known as John Tarleton Agricultural College, has grown to encompass more than just agriculture, although ag remains a major focus at the university. Now, the school that became part of the Texas A&M system, offers a variety of majors and options for students including business administration, accounting, computer information systems, education, public relations, journalism, art, theater, music, history and criminal justice, and draws students from not only across the state, but from around the country who all live and shop in Stephenville.

Recent numbers indicate that of the record 10,281 students attending Tarleton State University, 7,676 of them are attending classes in Stephenville. With the large influx of students, Stephenville has seen growth in everything from retail to restaurants and much more.

According to the 2010 census, the population of Stephenville is 17,123 with a strong, diversified economic base. The Stephenville Chamber of Commerce's website also cited the university as having "a strong influence on the economy of the area," adding that the school employs a full-time faculty and staff of 1,127 – the largest employer in the city by more than 500.

"Businesses, especially near the university, hurt when classes are out," said Chamber President July Danley. "Local businesses look to the university's students, faculty and staff for business. Not only the restaurants, but others as well. The university definitely effects the economy of the town."

With more students living, eating and shopping in Stephenville during the fall and spring semesters, the economy fluctuates with the population. Owners of restaurants and retail shops in Stephenville say they see an increase in business when classes start back in the fall and spring semesters.

"I definitely can tell a difference in everything from the traffic in and out of my store to the sales for months when Tarleton classes are in session," said Emily Horton, owner of Fancy Pheasant boutique. "As a business owner, I plan for those months. I order more merchandise to ensure I have enough in stock for the months when I know I will have students in the store."

Restaurants also see a huge increase in business during the months when Tarleton classes are in full swing. Many of those closest to campus have student specials and accept the Tarleton meal plan cards to increase business. Others have moved across town to boost sales.

In 2008, Dominos moved from their location on the loop to Washington Street. Store manager Jeremy McBroom said a major factor was to get closer to the college.

"We moved to our location on Washington Street so that we would be closer to the university. It was probably the biggest factor in our move," he said.

Dominos in Stephenville was the first in the state of Texas to include dine-in options. The move closer to the school allowed owners John and Laura Wolfe to consider and eventually make the innovative change — a change McBroom said has proven successful.

"We moved to Washington Street and included a dine-in area to give students a close option to get out of their dorms and enjoy our food," he said. "It's worked out very well for us. Customers eat at our tables every day."

McBroom also said Tarleton students, faculty and staff are a large part of the business's intake. Adding that while Dominos could survive on Stephenville business alone, the Tarleton aspect is "icing on the cake."

Growth will continue to be a good thing, no matter what the reason, but with that growth comes growing pains. Next week, the Empire-Tribune will look into the claim that with the increase in student population, the crime in Stephenville increases as well.