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The Return of College Kids: A Lesson In Economics

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For people in the moving industry, the end of summer is always a busy time. For Rio Francisco, it’s relentless.

“I was here already at five o’clock this morning, I left last night at one in the morning,” said Francisco, the manager of the U-Haul rental store in Brighton. 

Just before Labor Day, the line of customers stretched almost out the door. People carried cardboard moving boxes and keys to rented trucks and trailers. Francisco says in the last few weeks, he has rented thousands of U-Hauls.

“I lost track,” said Francisco with a laugh. “This is the equivalent of Christmas time for regular stores.”

Like the holidays, there is something both frenzied and festive about the return of students. The city estimates that 16,000 college kids live in off-campus apartments where most of the leases are in sync with the school year. They end August 31 and start up again the next day. In the span of 48 hours, there are thousands of people wheeling suitcases down the sidewalk and trying to squeeze mattresses through front doors.

“I would say chaos is the right term to use,” said Chris Taylor, as he took in the scene from outside his Commonwealth Avenue real estate office. “As you can see, it’s a bunch of trucks and moving vans and lots of traffic.”

Taylor manages 200 apartments and says the inconvenience is worth it, because students are a lynchpin in the city’s real estate market.

“I sell investment properties as well, and I always tell my investors the best part about this area is that there’s so many universities,” explained Taylor. “If we have a recession, the market crashes, you always have that student market to kind of fall back on.”

Students mean big business for everything from mom-and-pop restaurants to corporate giants. Comcast, for instance, says when the students come back, the number of internet and cable installations in Boston jumps nearly 200 percent.

At Basics Furniture in Allston, Neil Wigetman is in the middle of what for him is the equivalent of Black Friday. Between mid-August and mid-September, he’ll net up to forty percent of his annual profits. He stocks up on merchandise and brings in extra staff. Getting ready takes work, but given the constant parade of customers, making the sale is easy. 

“Everybody comes and they point out the items they want. ‘I’ll take one of these’, a desk, a bureau, a mattress. Everyone wants the same stuff,” said Wigetman.

Much of this economic boon is made possible by parents, like Jack Mudge, who drove down from New Hampshire to move his son from one apartment to another.  

“I’ve had two kids go to Wentworth in the last few years, and I’ve avoided this day every time, and today I’m down here,” said Mudge, as he took a break from loading furniture onto an already overloaded pickup truck and trailer. “This is a disaster area.”

Mudge motioned to a pile of cast-offs on the sidewalk. Kids moving from one apartment to the next leave behind tables, mattresses, art work -- things that someone else might use to furnish their apartment. It’s a tradition known as 'Allston Christmas.' Mudge points to something he picked up from a pile.

“I have my new desk chair,” he says with a wry smile, “I had to get something out of it.”

Not everything gets recycled.  After the big weekend move, the city picked up 700 tons of trash. When the college kids come back, the Department of Public Works gets a boost in business, too.  

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