University of Scranton students compiling business database to aid local retailers

Mar. 7—University of Scranton students are gaining real-world experience while helping small-business owners throughout the city.

Following guidance from the university's office of community-based learning, Ovidiu Cocieru, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing, management and entrepreneurship, is having about 70 students obtain a better understanding of the business climate in Scranton and develop a comprehensive database of retailers.

Students in two Principles of Management and Entrepreneurship II courses are researching businesses' contact information, including addresses and phone numbers, but they also plan to learn the challenges business owners are experiencing during the pandemic.

"It's not just a data collection process, it's also trying to understand what those businesses are going through right now," Cocieru said. "It gives context to what they are learning and also builds confidence because the project is under their control."

They will pass on their research to officials with Scranton's Office of Economic and Community Development, and civic organizations Scranton Tomorrow, NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania and United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

In order to effectively canvas the entire city and compile information on about 2,500 businesses, students will be broken up into groups to focus on different neighborhoods.

The project began in February with the students' first call to the civic organizations and will conclude May 21 when they provide those groups with a report of their findings.

The office of community-based learning consists of a group of individuals, mostly faculty members, whose goal is to mutually help students experience the Scranton community and enable them to use their coursework to address real-world needs, said Carolyn Bonacci, the university's community and civic engagement coordinator.

Leslie Collins, president and CEO of Scranton Tomorrow, feels the project is timely this year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses.

"When you look at the downtown business district, you see a lot of transition and ongoing evolution," Collins said. "I think it will really help Scranton Tomorrow reassess our plan to make sure we're addressing their current needs and challenges."

Collins said University of Scranton students also helped the organization develop its initial downtown small business database around 2009.

Junior Jacob Lisicky, an accounting major from Whitehall, saw how businesses were affected by the pandemic in his hometown and wanted to offer support in Scranton.

"I think we can help them out a lot and I think it's cool we're implementing what we learned in class in real life," he said. "I want them to get back to normal and start thriving again because they work so hard."

Junior Daniel Crossan, a business administration major from Media, is excited to learn more about Scranton's business structure.

"I feel like this project is a really nice way to get a feel for how the businesses are doing and where they're going to go from here," he said.

Several city business owners expressed their appreciation for the students' efforts on the project.

Meegan Possemato, owner of On&On Marketplace on Capouse Avenue in the Pine Brook section of Scranton, believes the updated listings will benefit both retailers and the community as the pandemic continues to alter the business landscape.

"It's going to be helpful to see who is open, because I've heard of new businesses opening and a lot of them closing," she said.

Jose Zorrilla, co-owner of Brooklyn Deli on Cedar Avenue in South Scranton, hopes the visibility from the project will bring new customers to his business.

"It's a new store, so I'm very happy people will know we're there," he said.

He's also grateful students are taking the initiative to support small businesses in a time of need.

"It means they worry about the city where they go to school," he said. "As the city grows, it's better for everybody."

Contact the writer:; 570-348-9131; @rtomkavage on Twitter.