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Newbury Comics, MIT Museum to Close Student Center Shops

Greg Kuhnen--The Tech
Newbury Comics does not plan to renew its lease in the Student Center due to changes in its business strategy.

By Krista L. Niece
Associate News Editor

For the first time since it was renovated in the late 1980's, the Stratton Student Center may soon see some major changes in the services and products offered.

Both Newbury Comics, a CDand variety store, and the MITMuseum store may vacate their first-floor retail space. Other businesses will remain in the Student Center.

The moves come because a majority of contracts between MIT and the Student Center vendors are "up for renegotiation," said Phillip J. Walsh, Director of the Campus Activities Complex.

Newbury Comics does not plan to renew its lease, according to Walsh. The store is profitable, but because of the growth the company has enjoyed over the past few years they are "changing their business strategies," he said.

Newbury Comics was started by two men affiliated with MIT.John Bursger '78 and Mike Dreese, who attended but did not graduate, began the company in 1978 "with $2000 and a comic book collection,"Dreese, who is now Chief Executive Officer, said.

"It certainly has been fun being [at MIT]," Dreese said, but "the economics" of the situation make it unlikely that the store will remain in the Student Center.

"LaVerde's and the Coop have exclusivities on a lot of products," Dreese said, including MIT insignia clothing, meaning that other stores in the Student Center may not sell those products. These monopolies, as well as the "very fixed market" at MIT, have resulted in the decision not to renew their space.

"I hope that whoever is looking at the space will have the students' interests in mind," Dreese said. "The Student Center is an important place [for student life]."

Other companies may also leave

Newbury Comics is not the only company which may leave the Student Center. According to Walsh, the MIT Museum Store will move its store back into the main museum building, located in Central Square.

"Most likely we will not be renewing the lease,"said Diego Garcia, manager of retail operations at the museum.

The move comes in part because of a "decrease in conference activity at [the west] end of campus," said Mary Leen, the Director of the MIT Museum. "When Kresge was more heavily utilized for conferences people shopped in the Student Center," she said. When the conference business started moving to the Tang Center a year ago, sales began to drop off and the store became uneconomical, she said.

Leen said that the MIT Museum was considering setting up a small presence at the new University Park hotel. She said that the Museum's proximity to the hotel would probably also increase traffic. According to Garcia, there are plans to enlarge the existing shop in Central Square by about a third.

The nature of the MIT Computer Connectionhas also changed in recent years, but it is likely to retain its showroom space in the Student Center basement. "The location is vital" to the store's goal of supporting the products recommended for use by Information Systems, said Joanne Hallisey, manager of the MCC. "The showroom and consultants are still here,"she said. She said that that students, faculty, and staff can still visit the store for information, even though all actual sales are now conducted online.

Future space allocation uncertain

It is not yet certain what will take the place of the stores that are leaving. "Some of the other tenants in the building have expressed interest in expanding into the space," Walsh said, although he declined to elaborate further. It is also possible that new outside companies will take up residence.

Today there are fifteen sites in the basement and on the first floor designated for "non-academic use." These spaces are rented out, either to outside companies like LaVerde's Market and BankBoston or to MIT departments. MIT Medical Services, for instance, administers MIT Optical, while Information Systems controls PC Services.

Some of the profit from the rent paid on the sites goes to support the Institute's endowment, Walsh said.

One of the Alternative Spring Break groups has been conducting a survey to assess the service needs of MIT students. "We ourselves have not been comfortable"as to what the students want in the Student Center, Walsh said. The results of this survey, which are not yet available, may help to clarify students' needs.