Break slows pace in college towns

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – It’s not exactly “Silent Night,” but the Christmas break between semesters at Northeast Mississippi’s two major universities definitely makes for quieter college towns.
Most Starkville and Oxford residents readily acknowledge the energy and activity – not to mention the economic benefits – that Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi bring to their communities, but many also capitalize on the absence of students during the holidays.
“Generally I’ll go down Jackson Avenue to get home instead of going by the bypass because of the decrease in traffic,” said David Elmore, who works at a downtown Oxford bank and lives near the town’s west end.
“When I was growing up, there weren’t that many cars here. We’d have had to go to Memphis to find a traffic jam.”
Kamilla Alvez, who works at High Point Coffee in downtown Oxford agrees that “it’s quieter, more calm. It’s different. You see more people in here who actually live in Oxford come out instead of just students.”
Jerry Martin of Oxford, a school bus driver and volunteer, said the break frees him to shop whenever he likes.
“I can go any time of day when school’s out, but I’d generally go only in the mornings when the students are here,” he said.
Jennifer Echols, an E-911 dispatcher for Lafayette County, took her four boys to Oxford’s Square Books Jr. earlier this week.
“I feel more comfortable and safer having my children out now, because some of the college students have very foul mouths, and I don’t like that around my kids,” she said.
Ellen Harris, who works at her husband’s Oxford pediatric clinic, said they don’t go out more when students are gone, “but it’s easier to get into restaurants, and you see more locals out. At night, if you want to get out and hear music or do things like that, it’s quieter.”
Starkville Police Captain John Thomas said less traffic and less nightlife mean fewer headaches for law enforcement authorities during the break.
But student-dominated apartment complexes in both Starkville and Oxford are often targets for thieves when most of their occupants are gone.
“It’s less crime now, but when they come back, we’ll find out about more auto and residential burglaries that happened over the break,” he said.
Depending on how their livelihoods are connected to the universities, some college-town people dread the exodus.
“Really,” said David Mullendor, owner of Hotel Chester in Starkville, “the businesses in town are driven almost entirely by the university – the students, faculty and staff. The town lives and dies on that, for the most part.”
He sees about half the town’s population leave after MSU’s exam week, and a crowd of faculty and staff leave a week later when the university closes.
“There’s not one plus side that I can think of,” he said.
Jimmy Hourin, an Ole Miss student who grew up in Oxford, sees two sides of the college-town quiet.
“When the students are gone, you can walk up to the Square and not be bothered by a bunch of drunk college kids,” he said. “But I work at a restaurant, and you make a whole lot more money when students are in town.”
Without Ole Miss, he said, “we’d be just another little town with a square.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.