While at the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce annual Business and Education Partnership Breakfast on April 29, University President Michael Roth announced a proposal for the University to move the Broad Street bookstore, currently located at 45 Broad Street, to Main Street.
“We thought that having a bookstore that was a cultural magnet for a town as well as for the campus could be an improvement on the current situation where the bookstore, except for the textbook component, doesn’t really function as a local bookstore for most people,” University President Michael Roth said. “The city was very interested in having more retail on Main Street since they have a lot of restaurants and not much retail.”
According to Chamber president Larry McHugh, this change of location is intended to be an economic boost to the area.
“It will be a destination business that people will come to and that will spill over and help support the restaurants and the other retail [businesses],” McHugh said at the meeting. “We are really happy with it. It’s a good move, and I know the downtown businesses are happy, too.”
Red and Black Café, which currently resides in the bookstore, will remain at 45 Broad Street.
“The Red & Black Cafe has and will continue to be an integral part of campus dining,” owners of the café Ed Thorndike ’89 and Karen Kaffen-Polasci wrote on their website. “The university has not yet decided what will fill the space vacated by the bookstore. It may be used for academic or other student uses. The plan would be to divide the space to accommodate the new tenant.”
Roth explained that while they have not finalized this space yet, he hopes that upcoming discussions will help come to a consensus.
“We’re thinking of a mixed use academic- and student-oriented space, [but] we’re not quite sure,” Roth said. “We’re doing a campus planning process…which will include a lot of discussion on making William Street a corridor between High Street and Main Street. So there’s the defunct dry cleaning place, there are small houses, there’s a daycare. What can Wesleyan do in conjunction with the city to make that street a better thoroughfare, especially for pedestrians who want to walk from campus to Main Street? The general campus planning discussion, [among] students, faculty, staff and probably alumni, will [begin in the fall] to discuss what we want to see [in] how the physical campus evolves in the next 20 years, and that’s based off of Broad Street.”
According to Mayor Daniel Drew, having the University’s bookstore on Main Street is a natural fit because of the school’s already substantial contributions to Middletown economics and culture.
The idea of relocating the bookstore has been discussed before. Previously, the University considered moving the bookstore to a vacant house on Washington Street.
“People were afraid it would be replaced by a strip mall spot,” Roth said. “No one liked that, and that was not our intention in any case, but there was fear that it would be developed into the kind of development that you see once you proceed west on Washington Street, a low level commercial development. There was some fear about it being too corporate, and there was considerable angst from some neighbors, not all, but some, who worried about traffic…crossing Washington Street and turning [it] into a parking lot, because that’s a residential area.”
Residents who opposed this created a “No Strip-Mall. No Wrecking Ball” Facebook page at the time and held protests to fight against this construction idea.
However, Roth explained that he is not worried about the opposition of moving the bookstore to Main Street because he feels that having the new location be on Main Street will be beneficial, especially with the talks surrounding the addition of events such as poetry readings and musical performances.
Currently, the University is unsure of where the bookstore will be located.
“The RFP, the Request for Proposals, was going to ask landlords who would have an appropriate space on Main Street and propose that to us,” Roth said. “We had found some interesting spaces, but we thought one way of getting the best space is for them to propose to us and let us see what’s out there.”
Proposals for this project are due on May 31. The goal is to have this project completed by the spring of 2017.