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First Saturday draws Potsdam student spenders

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POTSDAM - Village business owners will roll out the red carpet for returning students today at First Saturday, an annual event created to lure shoppers, and their wallets, into downtown stores and restaurants.

First Saturday was created in 2005. It is a partnership between Clarkson University, SUNY Potsdam and downtown businesses, and it is always held the first weekend after classes begin.

The event has grown annually, with over 70 businesses participating this year. The return of the students marks the end of a typical summer economic slump in Potsdam, a college town that depends on school-year spenders.

“Anyone in a college town, if they’re wise, they’ll rely on the student population,” said Randy L. Sixberry, who co-owns Great Northern Printing on 6 Main St. with his wife, Kimberly E. Sixberry.

Last year their custom clothing shop printed 400 shirts to give away free to visiting students and ended up printing 100 more to meet demand. This year they are starting with 500, but expect demand to be even higher.

Most of the participating businesses are offering discounts, giveaways or activities to lure students. Market Street will be blocked off to traffic and filled with pedestrians, vendors, live music and scheduled activities.

Shoppers can pick up a First Saturday “passport” with a list of all the participating shops. For each store they visit they will receive a sticker, and with eight stickers they will be eligible to be entered into a drawing for $100 worth of Potsdam Chamber of Commerce gift cards.

Buses will take students downtown from their campuses.

“It gets the students to explore the businesses in town and learn what’s here,” said chamber Director Marylee E. Ballou.

“Businesses look forward to the students coming back to town. It starts a new season for this,” she said.

Businesses owners described First Saturday as controlled chaos, and one of the busiest days of the year.

“It’s a free-for-all, they’re all over the place,” said Robert A. Porter, who works at Misty Hollow, a craft and hobby store at 22 Market St.

In addition to having a sale, Misty Hollow will offer classes on how to make earrings and hemp bracelets.

Mr. Porter described how the shop has had to change over the years to keep up with changing demand. Misty Hollow recently began selling board and card games, along with its normal craft supplies, yarn and fabric, to further appeal to students.

“There’s not enough people in Potsdam to support one thing, so you have to have diversity,” he said.

It is not just retail stores that get in on First Saturday. Restaurants hope for students to stop in for a bite.

“We’re local-focused, but the students are the gravy,” said Daniel E. Martin, general manager at Between the Buns, 6 Elm St. Between the Buns opened in March, so this will be its first First Saturday.

“We’re excited to be part of First Saturday. We’ll see what it generates,” Mr. Martin said.

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