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Businesses adjacent to EIU have advantages — and challenges

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EIU Area Businesses

Aaron's Hair Care owner Denise Fudge cuts Eastern Ilinois University student Michael Janowski's hair Wednesday morning (March 21, 2012) at the barber shop across from Old Main on Lincoln Avenue in Charleston. (Photo by Ken Trevarthan/Journal Gazette & Times-Courier).

CHARLESTON — There are still containers of candy and a price posted for flattop haircuts in Aaron’s Barbershop across the street from Eastern Illinois University’s Old Main.

Located in a small business mall along Lincoln Avenue, the barber shop was started by Aaron Buchanan in 1964, making it one of the oldest businesses neighboring the university campus. Denise Fudge, who took over the shop after her father’s death three years ago, recalled how the commercial landscape has been changed over the years by Eastern.

“There used to be an ice cream shop and a clothing store by here,” said Fudge. “The reason I want to remain here is Dad had a lot of clientele here. They had a rapport with him, too. I don’t want to go away from here. This is a friendly atmosphere around here. It’s not just for making money if you know what I mean.”

What is the secret for success on operating a business near a university campus? One might be accepting the fact that things do change in a college town and some don’t.

“A university is a stable employer. And you have plenty of consumers from the campus — students, faculty and university employees. But depending on the university can lead to complacency by some. Having 10,000-plus young people in town is great for business, but when the summer comes and the student body is down to 3,000 you feel the difference,” explained Charleston Chamber of Commerce executive director Cindy White.

Whenever a tavern or restaurant closes down near the Eastern campus, some ask how that can happen, White said.

“There are all kinds of reasons why businesses don’t make it. It might involve their management style,” she said.

Sometimes, those closures offer new opportunities. The closure of the Hardee’s Restaurant at Fourth Street and Lincoln Avenue led to an expanded Jimmie John’s Restaurant with venues for other businesses. The fadeout of an old gasoline station at Sixth and Lincoln led to locating a Midas automotive service center at that corner.

“That seems strange, but when you think about university employees or students needing some car work done, the Midas there really makes sense. So location does enter into it,”  White said.

Larry Keck came to Eastern from Decatur in 1983. He started working for Jerry Myerscough at Jerry’s Pizza at the corner of Fourth and Lincoln, just across from the north edge of Pemberton Hall.

“Yes, I ended up full-time here, not at Eastern. I stayed on and about 14 years ago I leased the place from Jerry,” said Keck with a grin.

Being a long-time commercial neighbor to Eastern has the advantage of a dependable clientele just a walk away in many cases.

“You have a pretty steady stream of students visiting your place. It’s not necessarily true we just have students in here. We get a lot of in-town customers,” Keck said.

Changes in student housing off campus have helped university area businesses like Jerry’s.

“There are more apartment complexes around here. That means there’s more walking traffic. It’s amazing the amount of apartments that have gone up in the past year,” Keck said.

The business model has changed for Jerry’s and others by the campus.

“When I started here there were only three places delivering pizzas in town. Now look at what you have,” Keck said on the increased competition.

Dave Kinnaird, owner of Marty’s, a bar and grill, at Grant and Fourth, knows of one advantage the older businesses by campus have over newcomers.

“The alumni will come in with their kids at the school now. It’s great seeing them talk about how they first met in here. And hiring second-generation employees is great, too. That way you know you’re getting a good worker,” said Kinnaird, who has been connected with the business honoring Eastern alumnus and former Major League Baseball pitcher Marty Pattin since 1973.

Returning Eastern alumni might be surprised by the new look for Marty’s with its outdoor patio and other changes. But the old Panther statue is still in place outside the business. During spring graduation and other events Kinnaird expects graduates and their parents to be photographed sitting on the Panther, an Eastern tradition.

“The social element is what is great about this. I love it,” he said.

Contact Meeker at or 238-6869.


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