The University of Nevada, Reno and Downtown Reno are close neighbors, so why aren’t more students visiting businesses downtown? In fact, seeing UNR students in downtown Reno is almost a rare sight.  

Over 20,000 people attend UNR, and of those, around 3,000 live on campus each year. That’s a huge consumer base within a mile of downtown! Not to mention all the students and faculty commuting to campus on a weekly basis.

Is your business attracting students? Could you be missing out on an entire potential audience? Read on to see some suggestions students had that would make them want to visit your business downtown. 

While some student concerns reflect long-term issues that the City of Reno is trying to address, other points of feedback are highly applicable to all businesses downtown. Hosting under-21 events, advertising to students, and offering student discounts are all ways to lower the hurdles that students face when it comes to getting out and visiting downtown Reno. Graphic by Faith Evans

Offer a Student Discount – and Advertise it! 

Based on results from the Downtown Reno Partnership’s 2020 UNR Student Survey, students want more restaurants, stores and bars downtown. But wait…downtown Reno already has all of those. What’s going on here? 

Affordability seems to be the real underlying issue preventing students from making the walk down Virginia Street. In their responses, students expressed that a night out usually goes over their budget.

Offering a student discount can help attract college kids to your business. Student discounts also reaffirm that your business is cost-conscious and student friendly. That’s why loudly advertising your student discount is just as important as offering it—to a certain extent, students see it as part of your business culture. 

If you’d like to go a step further, you can even become a pack-friendly business and have the Associated Students of the University of Nevada add your business to their directory. 

Attract student business with a unique hashtag.
Having a unique hashtag for your business can help students keep in touch on social media. Here are a few Reno-centric ones to include in your posts as well. Graphic by Catherine Schofield

Create a Photo-Op with a Hashtag

What if we told you there’s a giant marketing team just up Virginia Street, ready to promote your business and products at the click of a button? 

That’s the Zillennial specialty! As a generation that loves to document their every move with selfies and TikTok dance videos, they’re especially good at unintentionally spreading brand imagery wherever they go. 

As a business owner, it’s easy for you to encourage that. Invest in a front window space that screams “take a picture here!” Or set up a mini photo booth for your younger patrons to snap a picture with their purchase in front of your company logo.  

Starbucks perfected this technique for cafes globally. Young adult social media spaces are filled with coffee cup pictures, logo front and center.  

That’s something you can mimic on a smaller scale by creating your own aesthetic photo opportunities. Take advantage of the fact that downtown Reno’s arts scene is already so unique and appealing! Add your own brand flavor to that mix. 

Puzzle Room Reno is a great local example. Pre-pandemic patrons loved taking group photos with the escape room logo in the background and their time displayed on a whiteboard. Most even remembered to tag their posts with #puzzleroomreno.

Using a hashtag and maintaining social media accounts so that patrons can tag you is key to drumming up online attention. This will create a small network that’s more valuable than any Google review.  

Top cited businesses that attract students are are restaurants, events, and nightlife.
UNR students under 21 years old ranked restaurants, shows and events, and the nightlife scene among their top reasons for visiting downtown Reno. Graphic by Catherine Schofield

Looking Ahead: Host a Post-COVID Student-Centered Event 

Summer is just around the corner, and UNR is planning to host in-person classes in fall 2021. Students will be desperate for social interaction, and that puts you and your business in the perfect position to find new ways to invite them downtown. 

Survey responses indicated that UNR students feel like downtown Reno is lacking social spaces for the younger crowd, especially for the 18-20 age group that’s not quite old enough for the bar scene. This makes a lot of students feel uncomfortable going downtown, like they’re not really welcome. 

We’re not suggesting you overhaul your small business to become a hip, young social club—but if you’d like to attract the college-kid crowd on slower nights, try hosting a student-centered event post-covid. 

Events that tend to do well on-campus often include live music, trivia or singles nights. 

Here’s a helpful tip: a significant number of students don’t take classes on Fridays, so Thursday nights technically mark the start of the weekend for a huge group of 18- to 20-year-olds—that’s why “Thirsty Thursdays” are a big hit on campus. 

So don’t shy away from Thursday night events, especially if your Thursday evenings are slow. 

Just remember that advertising can be the most important aspect of getting students to attend! Post on your social media (use that hashtag!), and don’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth on a college campus. 

You can also place an advertisement with an on-campus publication, like the Nevada Sagebrush, or post to the UNR Reddit board if you need to spread the word about an event or deal. Some creative advertisers even get down and dirty with sidewalk chalk messages along North Virginia and Sierra street—apartment complexes targeting student tenants love this method. 

Students want to go downtown, but just feel like it’s not the place for them. Try incorporating these ideas to help make downtown a destination for UNR students. For more tips about staying engaged with your customers, check out our article about reopening after COVID-19.


Contributions to this article from Faith Evans and Catherine Schofield.