A college town, with all those captive consumers, may seem to be a great retail venue, but what do those Gen-Ys buy? The “360 Youth/Harris Interactive College Explorer Study” reports that America's 15.6 million college students spend $200 billion annually.

Polling 2,930 students 18-30 years old, as well as 700 18-24 year-olds not attending college, the study found that most students' discretionary income, which averages $287 per month, goes to beverages and snacks. Entertainment and leisure activities also ranked high; video game purchases totaled $2.3 billion.

But real estate developers shouldn't fret that students' money is bypassing bricks and mortar. Even though 93% of college students are wired to the Web, the report also found that only 38% of college students purchase technology products online.

Says Sharon Bosche, vice president of sampling and promotions of 360 Youth, an Alloy Inc. company, “While they're more technically savvy than the average consumer, unless there's a reason — if it's cheaper, or if there's a special deal — I don't think there's any compelling reason for a college student to purchase online.”

The college town, consequently, presents a unique real estate situation. According to Roy Higgs, CEO of Baltimore-based Development Design Group, students' spending habits do or should shape the merchandising mix that surrounds them. He recommends bringing food and apparel retailers, as well as larger home furnishings stores and booksellers, to a campus site. “Make them as pedestrian-oriented as possible. Every one of them, undoubtedly, seeks to build on the quality of the urban fabric.”