Commencement 2017

Local restaurants and businesses in downtown Syracuse, on the Hill gear up for commencement crowds

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Businesses near the Syracuse University hill and downtown Syracuse are bracing for large crowds coming to town for commencement festivities.

Restaurants and shops near Syracuse University are gearing up for an influx of customers during commencement weekend, as families and friends of SU students travel to the area for Sunday’s ceremony.

Varsity Pizza, located on South Crouse Avenue, will be open on the Sunday of commencement, said Eric Ockert, an employee at the restaurant. Things will still be running “business as usual” at the popular pizzeria that Sunday, he said. Varsity Pizza though will have extra staff working that day, Ockert added.

Like Varsity, Faegan’s Cafe & Pub on South Crouse Avenue also hopes to be packed full with customers, said Kyle Schirtz, a manager at the pub. Schirtz said he believes the bar and restaurant will mostly be full, but with construction nearby and people going downtown, he said that he isn’t sure “what to expect.”

Faegan’s Cafe & Pub will not allow patrons to make reservations for commencement and seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis, Schirtz said. It’s a recent change, but it allows things to run smoother throughout the day and prevents services from being delayed, he said.

Many visitors for commencement have taken their business downtown in recent years. Aster Pantry & Parlor, among other restaurants in the area, is booked up three to four months before graduation, said Michael Alvarez, general manager of the restaurant.

Aster’s strategy is to get as many people on the reservation list as possible, Alvarez said. He said some people have called the day after graduation to book at the restaurant for the following year.

“A regular weekend we’ll do 120 reservations or 120 covers, and we’re easily going to do twice that during commencement because … you’ve got SU, you’ve got OCC, you got Le Moyne — so it’s a crazy couple of weeks,” Alvarez said.

Restaurants are not the only businesses expecting more customers because of commencement. Manny’s on Marshall Street, a Syracuse merchandise vendor, will have more people come into the store during the week leading up to commencement, said Bill Nester, an employee at the store.

Nester said the whole week is good for business, because some graduating students see it as their last chance to scoop up Syracuse merchandise, and other students’ families come to the store when they pick up their kids at the end of the semester.

Manny’s isn’t doing anything new from past years, aside from selling more women’s spring and summer clothing, Nester said. He added that the store’s winter gear, like hoodies and sweatshirts, sell year-round. Similar to Varsity Pizza, Manny’s will also bring in more employees to help with sales once graduation rolls around, Nester said.

Hotels are also bracing for the influx of visitors in Syracuse, including the Jefferson Clinton Hotel near Armory Square in downtown Syracuse. Corrin Nicholas, assistant general manager at the hotel, said the staff begins to prepare months in advance for commencement, assessing the rooms and making sure things are up to par. The hotel also offers an upgraded menu and a larger breakfast buffet, she said, for the occasion.
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Nicholas said rooms for commencement typically sell out within a week after the previous year’s commencement. If rooms go on sale the Monday after graduation, they sell out by that Wednesday, at the latest, she said.

Other business representatives on the Hill said they don’t see any uptick in sales or foot traffic in the lead up to commencement.

Strong Hearts on the Hill, a vegan-friendly restaurant in the Marshall Square Mall, faces a downturn in sales during commencement.

Nick Ryan, co-owner of Strong Hearts, said business slows down during commencement, but small groups come in when they are heading to or from the ceremony. The staff also shrinks during graduation festivities because the restaurant employs students, many of whom are unavailable due to finals or have left because of the end of the semester, Ryan said.

“A lot of it is due to underclassman being gone and I think on commencement weekend people are going to more dine-in establishments. The stuff we offer is more grab-and-go for people who are in-between classes,” Ryan said.

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