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Coffeehouse Losses Result in Shutdown

By Lakshmi Nambiar

STAFF REPORTER

If you’re looking for caffeine in the Student Center at 4:00 a.m., better bring a Thermos.

After years of declining sales at MIT’s only student-run cafe, the Campus Activities Complex and Division of Student Life made a budgetary decision to close the Coffeehouse at the end of the fall term.

“There has been a tremendous loss of sales at the Coffeehouse, and the CAC could not continue to subsidize it,” said Peter Cummings, assistant director for business services and IT.

Victoria Davis ’04, student manger of the Coffeehouse, said that Coffeehouse sales have been on a “downhill spiral for the last four years.”

“The Coffeehouse has been losing a lot of money for the last couple of years, but last year, there was a serious loss,” Davis said. “With the tighter budget implemented by the CAC, losses were no longer acceptable.”

Davis attributed some of the decline in business to the substantial decrease in hours at the Coffeehouse, going from 24 hour service to being open 4:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.

In addition, some of the decline in sales can be attributed to increased competition from on-campus dining options, especially in the past year.

“There used to be a time when the Coffeehouse was the only option for students,” Cummings said. “However, now there is Lobdell, LaVerde’s, and the two restaurants on the first floor on the student center.” The MIT Card can now be used to purchase coffee at LaVerde’s Market, Arrow St. CrÊpes, and Alpine Bagel Cafe, all on the first floor of the student center.

Students mourn loss

Students have expressed surprise about the closing of the Coffeehouse. “I kind of understand the need to close it because it has not had a lot of business,” said Grace C. Lin ’05. “But at the same time, it has been a staple of MIT life. I’ve spent so many hours studying for finals there. I’m going to miss it.”

“It will be strange not having the Coffeehouse around any more. I hope they replace it with a better area that is well-lit and has comfortable seats for students to study or socialize,” said Lewei A. Lin ’05. “Students definitely need a better place, that has coffee, to study for finals.”

In addition, the loss of the Coffeehouse means the loss of student jobs. Last term, the Coffeehouse employed 15 students; in the past, it had employed as many as 30.

Competition hastened closing

The Coffeehouse is a student-run organization, and Cummings said he discovered that they were not necessarily equipped to deal with the extreme competition they were facing and needed further “mentoring.”

“We need to come up with a plan or model that will teach students how to run a competitive business,” Cummings said. “That is a prime component for any student-run management organization because we need to keep them competitive as other dining options become available.”

Davis said convenience was also a factor. “It also seems that students don’t want to come all the way up to the third floor because of the restaurants and other dining options more readily accessible on the first and second floor,” she said.

New use for space unknown

The spring term will be a time for the CAC and DSL to discuss ways to replace the Coffeehouse with another facility. “We want to use the next term as a reinvention period for creating a new business plan,” Davis said.

“We’re hoping that the new facility will be student-run. However, the CAC is considering outside involvement to aid in the management aspect,” she said. “We’re clearly starting with a blank slate. The students and administration hope to come up with a business plan together.”

According to Ward Ganger, dining manager for the CAC, “efforts to replace the Coffeehouse are still being discussed.”

“The area will continue to be used as a student space, but it might not be a solely student-run operation,” Ganger said.