By John Ungar
John Ungar is Executive Director of the Mount Airy Revitalization Corporation. He has worked as a community development practitioner in Philadelphia for over 12 years.
Commercial districts need to capitalize on every competitive advantage in order to survive and thrive. Some districts are fortunate enough to be located near colleges or universities. College students can be an excellent market for several types of businesses. As reported in an earlier post (“Colleges as Partners in the Commercial District Revitalization Effort”), there are several examples of Colleges and Universities playing a major role in revitalizing nearby commercial districts.
Just outside of Philadelphia, Arcadia University is beginning to support the adjacent business district, but it is taking a different approach. Wadsworth Avenue in Philadelphia lies less than a mile away from Arcadia University, which is located in the suburban town of Glenside. Although Arcadia is very close, Arcadia students traditionally have not crossed the city line to venture on to Wadsworth Avenue. This may have been due to poor perception of the area, combined with a lack of knowledge about the businesses located on Wadsworth Avenue. In the past few years, a local nonprofit organization and elected officials have invested a lot of money in major streetscape improvements and storefront improvements along Wadsworth Avenue. This helped create a positive perception of the district among nearby residents. Businesses decided that it was time to capitalize on these improvements, and proactively market the district to Arcadia University students, staff and faculty
The Wadsworth Avenue Business Association, Arcadia University and OARC, the local community development corporation, have formed a partnership called the Wadsworth Arcadia Discounts Unbelievable Program or WADSUP – in an effort to attract both Arcadia students and staff to shop on the Avenue.
The plan is simple. Over 40 participating businesses will display an “Arcadia Students Welcome” in their storefront. These businesses offer discounts to Arcadia students and staff who show their student or staff ID. The partners determined that they would not require presenting special cards or coupons which could complicate the program, and therefore make it less appealing to students and staff. Students and staff always have their ID with them, so they can always take advantage of the discount. The hope is that this will open up a whole new previously untapped market to the business district. A program like this is simple to implement, but clearly needs the cooperation of institutional partners. In this case, Arcadia University was very eager to implement the program, and is marketing it heavily in its own publications, and created the decals. Although this program did not require a significant financial investment from Arcadia University, it still has the potential to be extremely beneficial to both local businesses and the University.