As the University of South Carolina campus buzzed with activity on freshman move-in day Saturday, so did Columbia’s big box retailers.
“It’s just packed,” Target store team leader Ron McCoy said of move-in season at the Garner’s Ferry shopping center. “It’s like Black Friday in August.”
USC’s record enrollment this year of more than 33,000 students would make its campus South Carolina’s 13th-most-populated city, and nearby stores –Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart and Office Depot, among others – provide everything that “city” might need.
In Target on Saturday, parents and their college-aged charges negotiated carts bursting with organizers, bedding, lamps, mirrors and kitchenware through the store’s quickly emptying aisles. By noon, there were almost no shower curtains in the bathroom section, and one lonely horizontal bookshelf in the furniture section.
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One dad in a Gamecocks T-shirt debated the merits of the last bathroom organizing shelf with his daughter, who was crossing off items on a checklist. When they decided against the shelf, it was snatched up seconds later by a mom telling her son, “You don’t have anything under the sink. You need this.”
Target and Bed Bath & Beyond extended their hours to midnight and 11 p.m., respectively, to handle the crowds, and Target and Office Depot hired extra seasonal workers to help the increased number of customers, the stores said.
“The college season is one of the most exciting and busiest seasons of the year,” Bed Bath & Beyond spokesperson Jessica Joyce said in an email.
According to The National Retail Federation’s 2015 Back-to-College Spending Survey, families with children in college and college students will spend an average of $900 on school supplies. Total spending is expected to reach $43.1 billion.
“Do you need this?” is a ubiquitous question overheard on move-in day.
“Do you need extra hangers?”
“Thumbtacks for your desk?”
“You could always use another extension cord.”
“Oh my God, Mom, I do NOT need pots and pans.”
Retailers know shopping for college can be overwhelming, said Joyce, the Bed Bath & Beyond spokesperson. “So we try to make the experience as fun and easy as possible.”
At Bed, Bath & Beyond next door, employees set up booths with snacks and coffee for shoppers. The store offered a college registry, shopping checklists and a “Pack & Hold” service that allows students to shop at a store near home and pick up their college items at a store near school on a determined date.
“It’s especially helpful for those students who are going far away from home,” Joyce said.
Rebecca Cawthorne, 18, and her family recently moved back to the United States from the Middle East. The USC freshman was in the parking lot loading up her trunk with organizer bins for her room at Maxcy College, she said. “I moved most of my stuff in yesterday, and it was pretty calm,” she added. “Today is more crowded.”
Nearby, Danny Gordon, 19, was picking up a mirror, a fridge and hangers with his parents. The sophomore transfer student was moving into an off-campus apartment at University Oaks. His most important purchase was a mattress pad, he said.
At Target, a USC mom and her son reviewed their list before getting in the long checkout line.
“I want a legit bath mat,” the gangly teen said. “And a blender.”
“OK, we’ll get you those,” his mom replied. A pause. Then, “Do you need more towels?”