Colonial Cash delays hurt businesses

When students go to the Washington Deli, they often don’t buy anything.

“Students come into the store and ask if we accept GWorld cards. I have to say, ‘I am sorry, I am not in the program,’ and they leave because it is the only cash they’ve got,” said Jim Doherty, co-owner of the deli, located at 1990 K St. “I am so frustrated I don’t know what to do.”

For dozens of area businesses, accepting Colonial Cash has been a financial boon that has given them a dependable and credit-flushed clientele. But for businessmen such as Doherty, who is surrounded by businesses that prominently display Colonial Cash logos, not being able to get into the meal points program means most students will skip his store.

“I can’t even get an application to apply to the program,” Doherty said.

The deli is one of about 70 businesses on a wait list to become GWorld partners. University officials did not say when, or even if, the businesses will be added to the Colonial Cash program.

The GWorld card, similar to a debit card, allows students to use their Colonial Cash at nearly 100 on- and off-campus locations. About 56 of those businesses are classified as restaurants or food merchants. Other GWorld partners include laundry services, convenience stores and salons.

The only businesses GW added to the program last year were the new venues located in GW buildings, such as shops in the newly renovated J Street, Ivory Tower, Mitchell Hall and 1957 E Street.

In an e-mail, GWorld card program director Deborah Wright said the University is evaluating their current partners “to ensure that GW students have access to the most optimal blend of shopping opportunities.”

Any business that expresses interest in becoming a partner is added to a wait list. Wright said there is not an “average” amount of time that an interested business must wait before it can become a partner.

The wait list has upset several area business owners, who said GW has not been responsive to their requests.

Juice Zone, a venue on the same block as the Washington Deli, opened its doors last March and has tried to get Colonial Cash since “about three months before we opened,” said Amir Mostafavi, the store’s owner.

Mostafavi said the University faxed him a GWorld contract, but he was informed shortly after receiving it that GW was not ready to accept any new partners.

Baja Fresh, located next to Juice Zone, would also like to become a GWorld partner, said a manager at the venue, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He said the venue has been on the wait list for more than a year and that GW told him they were not “accepting any more requests at this time.”

Wright said the program has become more selective with choosing its partners.

“GWorld now looks even more closely at the services offered by a potential partner to make sure that the services are unique and desired by the student community,” Wright wrote. “If a merchant doesn’t provide something new in terms of cuisine, better prices, location or hours, they may not be selected to a partner.”

GWorld partners attributed a large part of their sales to students. At T.G.I. Friday’s, students using GWorld cards create between $2,000 and $4,000 in revenue daily, assistant general manager Matt Stringer said.

Au Bon Pain, located in the 2000 Penn mall, had a 48 percent increase in revenue following their transition to the GWorld card, manager Ben Lipetz, said. He added that about 60 percent of customers are students, and that 80 to 90 percent of them use GWorld Cards.

Lipetz said GW receives a 6.5 percent premium on GWorld sales, whereas most credit cards receive around three percent. “GW is making a killing,” he said.

In August 2003, the University introduced Colonial Cash, which for the first time allowed students to use their points at off-campus locations. Previously, students could only use their GWorld cards in Aramark-operated venues; Aramark is GW’s main food service provider, operating most J Street shops.

University officials made the change to offer students more dining choices and force Aramark to have more competitive prices.

“Certainly offering students the choice to use Colonial Cash at either Aramark venues or other retail businesses has increased competition for Aramark,” Wright said. “It is the University’s vision that students benefit from the convenience of quality dining in the core of campus as provided by Aramark, while maintaining the choice of eating at any of the myriad on- and off-campus retail partners.”

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