Although the students’ hands may be covered with cotton candy and freshly painted Henna tattoos, Broadway merchants said they look forward to welcoming droves of Yalies and other students into their stores during today’s Fall College Night on Broadway.

During the promotion, which is held twice a year, retail businesses and restaurants on Broadway and on the corners of Elm and York streets offer 10 to 50 percent discounts and free gifts to local college students. Several local store managers said they anticipate some of their largest crowds of the year today, as the event attracts students from several New Haven area colleges. But while some Yale students said they are enthusiastic about the festivities, others said they are unlikely to attend.

University Properties Director of Marketing Shana Schneider ’00 said the Office of New Haven and State Affairs and the Broadway Merchants Association developed College Night about five years ago in order to draw students from other schools around New Haven to the downtown shopping district.

“The Broadway district had been seen as really specifically for Yale students,” she said. “We wanted to create an event that really showcased Broadway. Those stores need to be supported by everyone in the community in order to prosper.”

In addition to offering store discounts, the event will feature free gifts, snacks and performances. If students need a break from shopping, there will also be Henna tattoo artists and caricaturists. The Warner Music Group will distribute free CDs, DVDs and autographed posters in front of Cutler’s Compact Discs. Schneider said student groups, such as Southern Connecticut State University’s step team and Yale’s Society of Orpheus and Bacchus, an a capella group, will be performing.

Although many Broadway merchants said the event will increase foot traffic in and exposure to the area, some said they are not sure the event boosts business.

Isaiah Bond, manager of Thom Brown, a shoe store, said business during College Nights in the past has been “good for the area” but also “crazy.”

“There’s a lot of young girls in the store shouting out sizes,” he said. “It’s a busy day.”

Tracy Houle, the manager of Wishlist, which has only been open for one College Night, said her store had its most successful night of the year during last year’s College Night.

“We love to participate,” she said. “Students work hard and they like fun, free stuff and good deals.”

But managers of locally owned businesses said the greatest advantage of College Night is its ability to attract students from outside the immediate neighborhood to Broadway. Ashley’s Ice Cream manager Mike Kochis said the influx of students from outside of Yale boosted sales last year.

“It’s good for exposure,” he said. “People didn’t know we were here.”

Yale students who said they plan to attend explained that they are drawn to the wide variety of events the promotion boasts.

Bethany Stump ’08 said she might attend in order to watch the performances and take advantage of the discounts. The shops on Broadway, she said, are usually outside of her price range, but College Night offers a more affordable shopping experience.

Sponsors of the event said they hope non-Yale students share Stump’s sentiments.

University of New Haven student Celina Natola, the editor in chief of the Charger Bulletin, the UNH student newspaper and a sponsor of the event, said in an e-mail that the event has also been heavily advertised around the UNH campus. But it is difficult to anticipate how many UNH students will attend, she said.

Deva Alpamirano ’10 said she does not plan to attend because the shopping does not appeal to her, despite College Night’s promotional efforts.

“I don’t really need to buy anything,” she said.

Still, some students, such as Peter Luehring-Jones ’09, said the event is a “good idea” even though the crowds sometimes made it difficult to take advantage of the discounts last year.

“It gets me to go into the stores,” Luehring-Jones said.

College Night will run from 6 to 9 p.m. today, although the discounts will apply all day. Schools participating in the promotion include Southern Connecticut State University, UNH, Albertus Magnus College, Quinnipiac University and Yale.