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MIT Card To Expand, LaVerde’s Business Increases

By Kathy Lin and Michelle Nyein

STAFF REPORTERS

The MIT Card Office is considering expanding the number of vendors that accept the MIT card (TechCASH) as early as next semester. Among the possible new vendors are local restaurants and the barber shop in the Student Center.

The Undergraduate Association “is finding out which restaurants students want to see on the card,” and will then provide MIT with a list of restaurants that students have expressed an interest in, said Reuben L. Cummings ’04, the chair of the UA subcommittee on campus dining.

Cummings has been receiving comments from the student body via e-mail and hopes to get more feedback at next week’s UA kickoff.

Plans for card uncertain

Plans for adding new vendors to TechCASH are still vague, as the Campus Dining Office has been “working on the on-campus system and investing most of [their] time and energy into Simmons, Next, Alpine, and Arrow St.,” said Richard D. Berlin III, director of campus dining.

Whether new vendors are added onto the card “depends on whether it makes sense for the campus food service program as a whole,” Berlin said. “We’re working on getting people happy with what we’ve worked hard to make already. Somewhere down the road, we can look at expanding the service,” he said.

Domino’s Pizza, which is currently the only off-campus food vendor that accepts the card, has “a lot of people using the card” and “rarely [has] problems with it,” said Mohammed Sibai, Domino’s director of operations. He believes that the addition of other vendors that accept the card “will hurt business,” as “more vendors means less customers per vendor.”

In addition to putting new restaurants on the card, the card office “want[s] to put readers on all vending machines on campus eventually,” said John M. McDonald, assistant director of enterprise services. But “getting there has been somewhat difficult.”

Card helps LaVerde’s business

The student ID card is being accepted at LaVerde’s Market this year for the first time. Laverde’s business this year is “better than last year by between 10 and 15 percent,” said store owner Frank LaVerde, and he believes that the change “is definitely related to the card.”

As MIT’s only on-campus grocery store, LaVerde’s has always benefited from its central location. Now, the new MIT card policy has increased student willingness to shop there even more. “I’m hearing comments from students who do use the card that they are very happy that MIT is allowing students to use the card,” said Store Manager Mark Semon.

Tanya Cruz Garza ’04 said that in previous years she used to shop at Pritchett instead, but now she shops at LaVerde’s every other day. She feels motivated to spend more at LaVerde’s, she added, since money on the card is less like real money, because it can come from scholarships and loans.

Arlis A. Reynolds ’06 said that if LaVerde’s did not accept the card, she would shop there less frequently because LaVerde’s would be “expensive and inconvenient.”

“We’re elated ... to finally be able to accept the card” after years of unsuccessful negotiations, LaVerde said. Not only is business better, shopping is also more convenient for students and security is improved by the reduced exchange of cash, he said.

Even the MIT card cannot induce some to shop at LaVerde’s, however. Omair Malik ’06 said that he never eats at LaVerde’s because of the low-quality food and “really, really expensive prices.”

Few technical difficulties reported

The new card reader system has been operating smoothly for the most part, LaVerde said. Semon reported only minor technical difficulties, such as the system crashing over a weekend earlier in the year.

McDonald said that the card systems run on phone lines, and reliability of the phone lines has been the biggest issue.

Occasional problems similar to those that arise with old or scratched up credit cards have also occurred because of worn-out student cards, said LaVerde’s Store Manager Jay Wayshak, who also added that such problems are rare and affect less than one half of one percent of customers.

Arrow St., Alpine also doing well

Arrow St. CrÊpes and Alpine Bagels are also doing well. According to Arrow St. co-owner Noel Ancarini, business at Arrow St. CrÊpes has been growing ever since it opened.

Alpine Bagels manager Mark Auterio said that business has been “awesome,” and that although the opening of Arrow St. CrÊpes has taken the rush off at lunch, it has not really affected Alpine business.

“Alpine is blowing Networks and Courses out of the water. They’re doing twice the business,” McDonald said.

Auterio noted that Alpine is finding that faster service is important at MIT since people are in a hurry, and that people want more variety. He said that Alpine will be conducting focus groups to find out what customers want and will be adding items to the menu.

Choices based on moods

Many students seem to lack strong preferences for any particular food venue. Instead, many prefer to rotate between the various vendors in the Student Center.

Enrique Zolezzi ’04 said that when he gets sick of one vendor, he goes to another. Once he gets sick of that, he moves on to another vendor. Similarly, Reynolds said that she alternates between LaVerde’s and Alpine for dinner.

Certain factors, however, do influence students’ decisions. For example, Malik said that he prefers Alpine Bagels to LaVerde’s because it provides fresh food and is less expensive. Reynolds commented that the lines are usually shorter at Alpine than at LaVerde’s.

MIT students can use the card at many venues, including campus dining, residential dining, Dominoes, LaVerde’s Market, MIT Press Bookstore, and Quantum Books. In addition to serving as an identification and access card for various MIT facilities, the card entitles cardholders to various MIT-specific discounts. Uses of the card can be found at .