Gator Nation returns


Barber David Ratliff, at center, of Colen's Hair Styling for Men & Women, cuts the hair Thursday of Gainesville Police Officer Derek Tirado, 26. Tirado is also a part-time student at Santa Fe Community College.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 10:35 p.m.
They're ba-aaack. And they want that sweet parking space you've been hoarding.
After a three week hiatus, the University of Florida's student body of more than 48,000 is returning for classes beginning Monday. For some locals, that means an end to a peaceful period, when it's easy to find a table at their favorite restaurants and traffic all but disappears around campus.
"I like students," said David Ratliff, a barber at Colen's Hair Styling for Men & Women on W. University Avenue. "But a lot of people who live here, I understand have a love-hate with them."
About half of Ratliff's regulars are students, but in the last three weeks that's changed. Since some barber shops close for weeks during the holidays, Ratliff sees families and locals during the break that don't typically come to Colen's.
It's not just the client base that changes, Ratliff says. Behavior changes too. In years past, Ratliff says he and his wife have taken long bike rides through UF's campus during the break, peddling across the wide-open deserted space.
"It does change," he said. "(Locals) get out on the street more. They go to malls and restaurants."
It's little wonder that holiday breaks eliminate congestion around Gainesville. UF's student body, in addition to the roughly 15,700 students at Santa Fe Community College, comprise about 54 percent of Gainesville's population. According to UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, Gainesville's population - including students - stood at 118,634 in April.
It may be nice for area residents, but the students' absence makes for tough times at area businesses, particularly those that heavily depend on students.
Steve McKinney, who has owned Cafe Gardens restaurant for 30 years, has found it's not even worth keeping regular hours during the holiday break. The restaurant scaled back to lunch-only for several days, and shut down for the entire week of Dec. 25 while the university was closed.
"It's just the nature of the beast here in Gainesville," McKinney said. "We understand business is cyclical. When students are in town, there's more money for everybody. . . . Even Thanksgiving and Spring Break take their toll."
Business may be scarce, but McKinney says he has some holiday customers who couldn't be happier. Parking is notoriously difficult to find around his restaurant, and for some locals it's more hassle than they're willing to endure.
"I do get some of that," he said. "I get some people who tell me 'I love your place, but I only go there when the students are out of town.' "
Seated in Chipotle restaurant across from campus Thursday afternoon, Suzanne Kiker said she changes her routine during the holiday break. Kiker, a librarian at UF, said she typically waits until about 2 p.m. to eat lunch when students are in town. But when they're gone, Kiker eats at restaurants near the university whenever she pleases.
"It's just the flow of things here," she said.
For McKinney, it's high time things flowed back to normal.
"Holy cow, yeah man," he said. "Welcome back Gators!"
Jack Stripling can be reached at 374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@ gvillesun.com
BY THE NUMBERS
  • A large chunk: UF's student body of more than 48,000, in addition to the roughly 15,700 students at Santa Fe Community College, comprise about 54 percent of Gainesville's population.
  • Overall population: According to UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, Gainesville's population - including students - stood at 118,634 in April.
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