For Westerville businesses, particularly those in Uptown, more than 2,000 new customers just moved into the neighborhood.

For Westerville businesses, particularly those in Uptown, more than 2,000 new customers just moved into the neighborhood.

Otterbein University students -- including a plethora of freshmen and parents who may never have been to Uptown before -- returned to campus last week.

With that influx of people comes an influx of business -- and an opportunity to showcase a relationship between the city and the university that's a source of pride for local businesses.

"When the new people are coming and they've got their mom and dad or aunt and uncle with them, I really play up the fact that there's this dedication and feeling of (welcome)," Westerville Visitors and Convention Bureau Executive Director Jeff Hartnell said.

"I want to emphasize that their kids aren't held off because they're college students -- they're part of the community. ... We want Westerville to have a college-town atmosphere. And quite frankly, this is better than we ever thought it would be."

Merchants hang banners welcoming the students and stay open late. Some run specials and offer deals during move-in weekend. The area seems to have embraced the student population.

Westerville Uptown Merchants Association President Nicole Harrison, who owns Pure Roots in Uptown, says she sees a definite uptick in business and buzz when the students come back.

"I love it," she said. "I have a very welcoming store when it comes to the Otterbein students. It's more foot traffic and it seems livelier up here."

Harrison and other merchants plan events and specials to help make the first few weeks welcoming for the students. They coordinate with Otterbein staff to be sure they know when each wave of students will be moving in.

Janet Tressler-Davis, president and CEO of the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce -- and an Otterbein alumna -- said the chamber doesn't keep track of business that comes directly from students, but she's sure it makes an impact.

And while other areas have schools nearby, Tressler-Davis says Otterbein's relationship with Westerville and the collection of arts and specialty retailers in Uptown is a special one.

"I think it adds to the vitality of the community," she said. "There's a uniqueness of when you say 'college town.' There's a different feel, and I think, laced with a liberal arts education, there's more of an arts culture feeling in the community. People really have a respect for that."

College kids love coffee, too. Java Central owner Ralph Denick said he was "packed" on the first Friday after the freshmen moved in. His coffee shop has become a frequent hangout location for college students, who occupy a different time slot than his regulars.

"I think everyone is glad they're back," he said. "We've had a great summer without them, but you could see the difference they make on Friday."

Perhaps the area businesses' success with the students can be attributed to their attitudes toward them.

Many merchants went to Otterbein themselves or have another connection, and most others have been around long enough to see that the students cause few problems compared to the benefits they bring.

And most importantly, Hartnell said, Uptown merchants know how to treat the students.

"We were all young at one time. Just cut them a little slack."