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Local businesses offer discounts

John Cameron | Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Students hesitant to set foot outside Flex Point territory can venture off campus without breaking the bank thanks to the Students for South Bend (SFSB) discount program.

The program, which has expanded to include over 60 local restaurants, museums and other vendors, offers students with valid Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s or Holy Cross IDs a variety of everyday discounts and daily specials.

Emily LeStrange, the former Off-Campus Concerns chair responsible for the program’s founding, said the program is meant to increase both student patronage at local businesses and campus engagement with the community at large.

“I’ve always thought the program was a great way for students to break out of the comfort zone Eddy Street Commons has,” LeStrange said. “If you create a way for students to continually shop downtown or to frequent the small businesses they didn’t know existed before, I think you create a positive relationship with your community.”

When the program began last year, LeStrange said a number of local businesses were eager to participate.

“Businesses from the beginning have been interested in participating, especially small businesses in the South Bend city area,” she said. “We were able to grab the attention of a lot of places students frequent, like Between the Buns, Studebagels, Legends, Le Peep and even the South Bend Silverhawks.”

Katy Zemlock, this year’s Off-Campus Concerns chair, said SFSB is still seeking more local vendors.

“We are working with Kite Realty, the Eddy Street Commons developer, to discuss a blanket discount at the businesses there, and will continue to reach out to businesses if students express interest in certain establishments,” she said.

Zemlock said most businesses were made aware of the program at its inception, so business participation is likely to remain at its current level.

Student participation, however, is lacking. Zemlock attributes this to limited student awareness rather than a lack of popular businesses involved in the program.

“In speaking with my friends and people in my classes, awareness of the program appears to be very low,” she said. “In my experience though, when students are aware of the program, they do use it frequently.”

LeStrange said students at all three eligible colleges would be more likely to participate if they were more informed about the businesses involved.

“I feel some students still don’t know about the program and the benefit it brings to them as shoppers. I’d love to see some more on-campus events [publicizing the program],” she said. “Working more with our SFSB liaisons at Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross College is a huge part of the growth and expansion of the program we’d like to see.”

Zemlock hopes the distribution of a mobile app will help keep students mindful of where they could be using the program’s discounts.

“One way we hope to [raise awareness] is through the development of an app, which is currently in the SAO approval process,” Zemlock said. “[The app] alerts the user where SFSB discounts can be found [by] location.”

For those students who are aware of the program, the majority of feedback is positive, LeStrange said.

“The feedback we did get from students was always very appreciative,” she said. “Sometimes we heard that the discount wasn’t applied as a student thought it should be, and we were prompt in contacting the business and getting confirmation that they were still in the program. Fine-tuning is another key part of the development of the program we’d like to see this year.”

Zemlock’s own experience with an off-campus business owner affirms her belief that the program can do more than just save students a few dollars.

“My friends and I dined a Girasol’s, a small Salvadoran restaurant, one day for lunch and had a lovely conversation with the husband and wife who own the restaurant,” she said. “It’s conversations like these that truly foster community engagement.”

LeStrange sees the program as a tool for popping the infamous campus “bubble.”

“SFSB creates a conversation with local residents that isn’t always there,” she said. “We hope it’s an entry way for students to break outside of the Notre Dame bubble and get involved with the community we live in.”