As the students of the University of Mississippi are rounding third base for the semester, any native of Oxford will tell you that the one thing they look forward to more than family vacations or the impending heat wave, is the absence of the students.
When this tiny town relinquishes its 16,000 + students to make the dreaded pilgrimage home or to their summer jobs, Oxford returns to normal capacity once more.
For that three-month period, locals take in that breath of fresh air that is minimal traffic and availability of non-meter parking on the Square.
After the frenzy of new graduates, crying mothers, second cousins, great aunts, U-Hauls, and alumni cause a hellish traffic jam as they make the painfully slow crawl down Jackson Avenue West and out of town, Oxford morphs into an absolute oasis.
It was hard to view Oxford in that light as a child, maybe because a 15-year-old isn’t quite able to appreciate a town that mainly caters to a 21 and up crowd.
Oasis or ghost town? But as one’s love for a town grows, so does the ability to find beauty in the minutest aspects of this little refuge.
“I love the intimacy of the town when the students are gone and kind of the community of people that are left over that come together to make Oxford fun out of desperation and necessity,” Oxford native and soon-to-be-graduate, Talley Diggs said of the town during the summer.
Diggs is staying in Oxford over the summer to work at the local diner, Ajax, before leaving the town for a job opportunity in the fall.
“Since I’m graduating, I wanted one last go-around.”
Summertime can be a double-edged sword to the business owners of Oxford. Like any of the locals, there is a given appreciation for the serene aura that falls over the town, mid-May. But when around 16,000 students leave town for the summer, their wallets are something that they’re sure to not leave behind.
Like most restaurants in town, Soulshine Pizza Factory, located on the Oxford Square, saw a significant decrease in sales when comparing an average week in March, when the students are still in session, as opposed to an average week in June.
From March 15, 2015-March 21, 2015, the total amount of sales for that week was $54,206.
From June 1, 2014 to June 7, 2014, the total amount of sales for that week was $34,395.
A big factor in the decrease in sales is the fact that there aren’t as many students out blowing money on alcohol.
For that week in March, alcohol sales reached $12,947, which was 23.78 percent of total sales, as opposed to the week in June where alcohol sales only reached $6,190, which was 17.91 percent of total sales.
Businesses in Oxford see more families and locals coming out to eat during the summer, which helps compensate for the loss in alcohol sales. The ability to survive the drought of the summer months is a true test in exposing which businesses are capable of staying afloat.
During the summer, there’s always a bar stool available for you and your friend. You don’t have to pay obscene cover charges so that you may have the privilege to barrel over the masses to pay for that Evan and Coke that probably doesn’t taste as good as you’d imagined.
You’re able to meet new people, distinctive people, that you may not have seen or cared to notice any other time of the year. Maybe they’ll invite you back to their house party to late-night where you’ll meet more new friends, who you’ll drink moonshine with around a bonfire.
And maybe right as the moonshine is hitting you, someone will suggest that it’s time for target practice with some beer cans and the host’s array of artillery. This is ill advised, but point in case, the possibilities are endless.
“I feel like school is a time to be creative and productive, but somehow having nothing to do, there’s just so much more creativity. You have to come up with stuff. There’s not much in Oxford, so it really is just a bunch of people entertaining each other,” said Diggs.
There are numerous outdoor spots on the Square where you can seek shelter from the sun and grab a brew, whether you choose the balconies at City Grocery or Boure, or the patios at Soulshine or Proud Larry’s.
The Square Books porch is another perfect space for you to take a book or a nap, or for you to reflect on whatever needs reflecting. You’re guaranteed to leave in a good mood.
If the Square isn’t a place you’d care to frequent, and you’re bold enough to test the waters, you can go swim in Sardis Lake. The End of the Road is always a fun place to lay out, to take your dog or your Frisbee or your truck to go muddin’, whichever you prefer.
Another place to cool off that many people don’t know about is “The Falls” located somewhere off of Highway 30. It’s hard to imagine a place like this existing in Lafayette County, but if you’re willing to trek a half mile or so back through knee-deep, snake-infested waters, you’ll be happy you went.
It has been an increasingly popular trend for out-of-town students to lock down jobs in Oxford for the summer, or to have an excuse to stay without having to take classes.
Jackson native and up and coming senior at the university, Caroline Porch, talked about why she desires to stay in town over the summer.
“I like it better than Jackson, which is my hometown. More of my friends are here, more people my age, and there’s more to do. There are better bars and restaurants here. A lot of my friends stay here over the summer…
“I like Oxford in the summer more than I do in the school year at some points because there are less people and because there are a lot of restaurant and drink specials.”
Even the students from out of town have an appreciation for the time when Oxford quiets down.
Summertime may be one of the most overlooked, underestimated times of the year in Oxford. There is a deep bond that grows between the summer residents and the town that is hard to uncover any other time of the year.
As the clock hits 1 a.m., and you and your buddy stumble arm and arm down the stairs of City Grocery out into the beautifully forsaken streets, the silence reverberates off of the walls of the Court House.
You fall in love in a way you never thought conceivable. When the droves of people leave, the Square still glows for its leftovers.