Feeling the squeeze

Mandatory spending in J Street is not only angering students, but now local restaurants are reporting major deficits, which they attribute to the University’s new policies and the ever-increasing number of GWorld partners.

For the first time this fall, freshmen and sophomores were required to spend a certain percentage of their GWorld dollars at J Street. There are also now 153 Colonial Cash partners, including several new additions like Tonic and Chipotle.

Froggy Bottom Pub owner Hien Bui said her revenues have dropped about 20 percent from the last school year. The J Street spending policy has had a huge effect on her student sales – which comprises about 30 percent of her total profits, she said.

“My feeling is in a free enterprise economy, the University needs to treat (local restaurants) the same as the people in J Street,” Bui said. “If J Street wants a slice of the pie it’s not fair for us that the University makes the students spend money in order for J Street to stay in business.”

Ray Chan, owner of Panda Café on I Street, also said the mandatory spending policy is harmful. His business has seen a 20 percent drop in GWorld sales since last school year – a total of $5,000 to $7,000 a month.

“Don’t (students) have a choice where they spend their money? If (J Street’s) food is not good, why do they have to spend money over there?” Chan said.

Under the mandatory spending policy, freshmen must spend $700 and sophomores $250 per semester at venues at Marvin Center. This money expires at the end of the academic year.

Mandatory spending enhances campus community, said Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz.

“The whole idea to have mandatory spending in J Street is to build community,” he said. “We’re trying to get people early on building a community.”

Student Association President Nicole Capp said she is against the mandatory spending policy.

“The quality of student life is diminished when mandatory spending limits are in place,” said Capp, a junior. “Students, vendors, the GWorld program and, ultimately, the University are all restrained by the policy.”

Katz said the University is aware that local vendors are losing revenue. He attributes this to an increase in GWorld partners and a smaller freshman class.

“If you assume there is no change in the money available, and you have more places to spend it, it’s going to affect (other businesses),” he said.

Many students have spent their Colonial Cash at venues such as Safeway – which started accepting GWorld this school year – instead of local restaurants, Katz added.

Bui said the recent openings of other venues such as Tonic, WOW Wingery and Carvings, could also be a factor in business loss.

“A lot of new businesses opened around here, so we know we have to share the customers with everybody else,” Bui said.

Pita Pit manager Casey Hristakos said he also thought that the increase in competition has been a factor in lowering sales this school year. Pita Pit deliveries make up a significant amount of its revenue, he said, and the number of competitors on Web sites such as Campusfood.com have increased, leading to an 8 to 10 percent loss in sales.

Despite losses, Hristakos said Pita Pit’s location in Ivory Tower has cushioned it from GWorld changes, although “mandatory spending at J Street hasn’t helped.”

“We still have the consistent, solid Ivory Tower base and the academic buildings around here,” he said.

There has been little or no change in GWorld sales compared to last year at Potbelly’s or Baskin Robbins-Dunkin Donuts in Ivory Tower, store managers said. Gallery Place managers said credit card use is slowly replacing GWorld spending.

At 2000 Pennsylvania, restaurant owners said they have been heavily impacted. Muluka Kalef, supervisor of La Prima, said the venue has lost $1,300 to $1,400 per day in GWorld sales since last school year.

Au Bon Pain has seen a 12 to 18 percent decrease in sales because of the mandatory spending policy, said Tim Hinton, store owner and manager. Bertucci’s reported similar problems, and general manager Leon Evison said the policy has “negatively affected our business by 50 percent.”

Some students also said they disliked the mandatory spending policy but supported expansion of the Colonial Cash program. Some said they ate at J Street more often than outside restaurants only because of the spending requirements.

“The mandatory spending policy is not conducive to good spending policies . It’s not really real money. People go out of the way to spend more money,” freshman Andrew Levitt said.

While sitting in J Street, freshman Khaya Leary said the policy does not enhance campus community like administrators hoped it would.

“That’s not really effective. As you can see, right now I’m sitting here by myself,” she said. “It’s not like I came here to chat and eat.”

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