W&L students & local businesses: It’s complicated

Danika Brockman

The relationship between Washington and Lee students and the businesses they frequent in Lexington is one influenced by both economic and social factors. While the students help to facilitate a large amount of economic activity within the town, I can’t help but feel the presence of resentment in the community.

A factor to consider is the wealth of the town’s permanent residents in comparison to the money college students might bring in. Most college students have sufficient access to funds with which to patronize local businesses, as they come from a situation in which they can pay for college.

Obviously, this is not the case for every college student, but is typical of the students residing in Lexington. In addition to this access to money, students often don’t have the numerous bills to pay for food, laundry and housing. Most of these payments are simply “sent home” for parents to pay. Students, therefore, have considerably extra funds to pay local businesses with, which in turn makes up a larger part of the local economy.

The significant stratification in wealth between the students and residents may generate some tension.

However, students have a very positive view of the surrounding town. Washington and Lee student Ethiopia Getachew, ‘19, visits the restaurants and coffee shops about every other week. These restaurants and coffee shops cater to students’ need for off-campus food and entertainment, as well as present a friendly, genial manner to the students.

Wes Culp, ‘21, agreed with that sentiment: “I get a general feel that the establishments in Lexington value the business that comes from the students, and as a result treat us well.”   

The businesses obviously have a friendly relationship with students, as the town’s population is mostly comprised of the student bodies of Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University. But is there is a better dynamic that can come of the interactions between these two groups of people? I cannot say.