After receiving an offer from a local development company, Centerplan Companies, the University has begun to consider moving its official bookstore from its current location at Broad Street Books to a new location on Washington Street. On Friday, Nov. 9, Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Financial and Facilities Committee (FIFAC) Chair Andrew Trexler ’14 sent out an all-student email to inform students of this potential change.
“It was extremely recent, just in the last couple of weeks,” Trexler said. “Some developers came to the University with the idea. They were in conversations with [Associate Vice President of Finance] Nate Peters and [Associate Vice President of Facilities] Joyce Topshe just a few days ago. I met with Nate and Joyce, [who] told me about the proposal from the developers and were looking for student input and wanted my help for organizing a campus discussion about it.”
Centerplan recently approached University officials about the possibility of having an official University bookstore within the complex, which would be located on the north end of Washington Street between High and Pearl streets. In addition to the bookstore, this complex would also potentially contain both local businesses and nationally branded retail stores and restaurants. According to Trexler, Centerplan hopes that the complex will be used by both students and Middletown residents. In a blog posted by Vice President for Finance Nathan Peters, Peters notes that the complex would include more than 10,000 square feet on each of the two floors in the building.
“They indicated that they were finalizing leases with two additional tenants that are popular with college communities; they expressed an interest in marketing Wesleyan logo gear and textbooks,” Peters wrote in an email to The Argus.
Though officials at Centerplan would not include a University-licensed bookstore in this complex without official approval, they intend to continue their plans regardless of the University’s final decision. The company already owns the property on Washington Street where it plans to build the complex.
If the University does decide to relocate its bookstore, then Broad Street Books would be closed down for financial reasons. As the University owns the building, the University would be able to determine another use for it in the future.
“A new bookstore on Washington Street likely could only succeed if the existing bookstore was closed,” Peters wrote. “In this case we would free up space at 45 Broad Street for other academic needs. No proposals on the existing building have been completed at this time.”
At a WSA General Assembly meeting to discuss this issue, students speculated about using the space as a dance or recording studio or turning it into another student union or dining hall. Though no official decision has been made on the future use of this building, it remains unlikely that the offices in the building, the WESU office and The Argus office, would be forced to move.
However, the potential relocation would likely affect Red and Black Café, which is currently located within Broad Street Books but owned separately. Should the bookstore be closed, it remains unclear whether or not Red and Black would move, stay at its current location, or simply close.
“As far as I’m concerned, Red and Black is the biggest question mark,” Trexler said. “We’re not really sure what the future of Red and Black would be if we did make the move… If we did move to the new location, we wouldn’t own that [new] building but we’d still own the [current] building, so we could use it for some other purpose. Red and Black might stay where it is, it may move. I really don’t know.”
At this point no estimated costs or expected time of completion of the project has been released. According to Peter’s blog post, the University will have to decide whether or not to relocate the bookstore by early December. He did say that, financially, such a move could be beneficial to the University.
“We learned that Wesleyan would not be required to pay for any expenses related to the project,” Peters wrote. “In fact they would pay Wesleyan to purchase a small parcel of land at the proposed development site.”
The news of the bookstore’s potential relocation and the building of the Washington Street complex have caused a range of reactions both within the University and within Middletown as a whole. Some students feel that the distance between the proposed site and the rest of campus could cause students not to utilize the bookstore.
“I think this is a pretty bad idea,” said WSA Representative Arya Alizadeh ’13. “The bookstore is already sort of [complained] about in terms of how far away from regular campus life it is. I think putting it further away would just make more people complain. I think it’s a poor idea to have the bookstore moved. We should be looking to move it closer to campus.”
According to an informal report done at the WSA meeting using Google Maps, the distance between Weshop and Broad Street Books is 0.8 miles, while the distance between Weshop and the potential new site is 0.9 miles. Other students raised concerns about the potential hazards of many students crossing the busy Washington Street.
“[Washington] Street is really dangerous,” said Maggie Masselli ’16, who grew up in Middletown. “I remember 10 years ago Doris, an old woman who’s a friend of my parents, jaywalked and was hit by a car. It sort of made real to you that the street can be really dangerous. [The development] would make it infinitely more dangerous.”
Some worried about the possible detrimental effect that the building of national retail stores and restaurants could have on Middletown.
“A Starbucks just brings people from the highway and back out again,” Masselli said. “It’s not our community. I don’t think people from the North End would really be going there.”
A writer on the Middletown Eye, a community newsblog, also criticized the potential introduction of national chains into Middletown.
“Speaking of Starbucks and Chipotle’s, most national chain restaurants want to have a drive-thru, and unless Middletown’s required lane length can fit in those lots, the project would require a waiver from zoning – it’s not permitted outright,” the blogger for the Middletown Eye wrote. “So that either casts doubt on the participation of those national tenants, or it opens the possibility for a refusal of the project by P&Z.”
Meanwhile, other students have expressed some support for the move. In a straw poll of WSA members, 19 students supported the relocation, while eight students opposed it, and seven students abstained from the vote. Some students felt that the building of the complex was an opportunity that the University should not miss.
“If they’re already going to develop that area, then I would be in favor of moving,” said WSA Representative Alton Wang ’16.