Thousands of Kent State University students came to downtown Kent by the trolley-load on Saturday, anxious to snap up menus, food and anything else downtown business owners were giving away for free.
Encouraged by bright, sunny weather, the students walked East Main Street to visit Discover Downtown, where business owners set up tables, tens and booth to show off their wares.
The event was sponsored by the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce and Central Portage County Visitors and Convention Bureau, in collaboration with KSU's Office of Student Success Program.
Lori Wemhoff, executive director of the chamber, said just before noon that the sixth trolley full of students had arrived, bringing a total of 1,000 students so far. The event, she said, was on track to exceed last year's turnout of 3,000, she said.
The trolley drivers and downtown greeters directed students to Erie Street so they could visit the businesses that weren't there last year, she said. Some Erie Street businesses, like UniversiTees and Carnaby Street Style, set up tables on Main Street to call more attention to their storefronts.
Chips and 50 cases of water given to students were donated by Acme Fresh Market in Kent, while hot dogs and granola bars were purchased at Walmart, using donations by the Visitors and Convention Bureau.
"You know college students, they love anything for free," Wemhoff said. "Hopefully this is going to be their home away from home for the next four years."
Mayor Jerry Fiala was among the volunteers at the chamber's booth giving away hot dogs.
"It's just wonderful to see the students coming in," he said. "This is their home for nine months out of the year."
Main Street Kent invited students to participate in a Savenger Hunt to win gift cards to local shops and restaurants. To enter, they needed to collect information from eight of the companies participating.
Freshman nursing students Amanda Battoliga of Rochester, New York and Destiny Walton of Columbus, said they appreciated getting the information from the downtown businesses, and planned to use the menus to bring food to their dorm rooms in the future.
Walton said she especially appreciated information on how to call the police if necessary.
"It was very informative," she said. "It's good to know all the things that are down here."
Emma Day, owner of Carnaby Street, said she was happy to see lots of new faces. She used the event to spread the word about her upcoming style show on Sept. 13.
"It's the perfect day for this," she said.
Marc Jacobson said he had handed out 300 slices of pizza in the first hour of the event, and could have handed out another 100 judging by the line and crowd when supplies ran temporarily low.
His business opened in January, and this was his first time participating in the event.
"It's a beautiful day for it," he said. "There's not just students here, but a lot of people from the community as well."
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