The winter holidays are a welcome break for most UT students, but Knoxville area businesses dread the loss of their biggest customers.
"When the students aren't here, business is cut down by probably a quarter. We actually close every Christmas for 10 days because there's just no customer base," said Karen Strang, the manager at Golden Roast. "We have to, it costs us more to be open with labor and electricity and everything else."
The small coffee shop is just a short walk from the library, and on a typical Tuesday morning, students and professors can be found perusing the news or typing out morning emails while sipping their morning joe. Once the last finals are over, however, The Golden Roast's mornings dry up.
Of UT's 27,379 students, both undergraduate and graduate, only 26 percent are from Knox County, according to UT's Office of Internal Research and Assessment. This suggests that almost three out of every four students are likely headed somewhere other than Knoxville for the holidays.
Every year, this loss of business affects businesses up and down Cumberland Avenue, known to students as "the Strip."
Even the ubiquitous Cook-Out suffers. The popular campus hangout and late-night munchies cure saw a dip in sales over the break, said Cook-Out co-manager Jason Stidham.
"Oh yeah... it was very slow," he said.
Stidham said that instead of trying to increase advertising, Cook-Out management simply plans for the dearth of business and budgets accordingly. They swallow the losses as part of operating in a college community and await the return of the hungry twenty-somethings.
Although many of these businesses close for a few days or cut hours, staff is still needed to run the business when it is open. Some students, like undecided sophomore Julie Mrozinski, stay in town to make the extra cash. Mrozinski works at The Mellow Mushroom, and she said Knoxville over the holidays is a strange world.
"It was very eerie and scary. It was just us and the crazies," she said. "The energy was gone, it was almost post-apocalyptic."
Mrozinski lives within walking distance of her job, and the commute to work every day was noticeably quieter than during the semester. She recalled the empty streets.
"There's usually so much flow going on, so much energy, so many people with stuff to do, so many cars going around ... I would see one car on my walk to work. And all that came into (work) were families, not a single student," Mrozinski said. "The only people still here were people that were working, and I only saw them at work. Nobody was around."
Mrozinski did not recommend working during the break, unless alone time or money were sorely needed.