Bookstore cafe to open this week

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Students returning to College Hill this week may have already noticed changes to the Brown Bookstore, where renovations, including construction of a new cafe and seating area, are reaching their final stages.

Manuel Cunard, the bookstore’s director, said he thought students would be “quite surprised” by the changes that have occurred over winter break.

The textbook section has moved to the bottom floor, while the technology department now occupies the upper floor. The upper floor also houses the Your Space section, which is geared toward marketing dorm products and features a mock-up of a dorm room, Cunard said.

The southern part of the store, overlooking Angell Street – which will house a seating area, the general books section and the new College Hill Cafe, run by Blue State Coffee – was just in the preliminary stages of demolition when students left in December.

Construction on the cafe is about a week behind schedule, but it should begin serving customers by the end of the week, possibly as early as today, Cunard said earlier this week.

The cafe is expected to be environmentally friendly, featuring locally grown food like soups and sandwiches. Students will be able to use their declining balance accounts at the cafe, but not Flex Points, as bookstore managers had originally hoped, Cunard said. It will stay open later than the main part of the bookstore, and there are plans to bring in nighttime entertainment like musical performances and poetry readings.

In the rear of the store, there will be a children’s area and a community meeting room which can house 40 to 45 people and will be available for use by Brown groups and community members, Cunard said. These additions, the last to be completed, should be finished by the second week of February.

Over winter break, workers also created a new checkout area. Customers will now pay for purchases at a new desk between the main entrance and the children’s area.

The goal for the renovation was to make the bookstore more useful and welcoming to Brown and the community at large, Cunard said. Windows that used to display merchandise have been cleared to make the store feel more open. New flat-screen TVs located throughout the store will show Brown-related announcements, except for one in the Your Space section, which will show television programming, perhaps Turner Classic Movies, Cunard said. He said he hopes new seating areas and the cafe encourage shoppers to see the bookstore as a place to browse, linger and relax, he added.

Renovations started in August and have kept to a “pretty aggressive” schedule, Cunard said. He added that construction took place at night so the bookstore could operate with relative normalcy during business hours. This semester, work is proceeding on the cafe and rear of the store during the daytime.

On Tuesday afternoon, the construction didn’t seem to cause many problems for students crowding the store to buy their textbooks before the first day of classes. Temporary signage and bookstore workers helped shoppers navigate the new layout.

Ed Weiss, manager of the textbook department, said that “rush is going good.” There hasn’t been an appreciable increase in confusion from students, he said, adding that relocating the textbook department hasn’t changed how it functions.

While students may need to adapt to the new layout, said Eileen Chece, a bookstore employee, it should be more accessible in the end. “With any changes, there is confusion,” she said.

Students expressed mixed feelings about the relocated textbook department. Drew Janes ’09 said the textbook section is basically the same as it used to be and its navigation is self-explanatory. But Teresa Slifer ’11 said she found it cramped and “too cluttered.”

Students also said they looked forward to the opening of the College Hill Cafe. Though it was the first time she’d heard about it, Slifer said she liked the idea of adding a cafe and said the space could become a “nice little haven.” Riaz Gillani ’09 praised the renovation efforts, saying the bookstore looks “less depressing.” The store will now feel more like Barnes & Noble or Borders, he said.

Cunard said the new-look bookstore will have its official grand opening Feb. 25. There will be tours, food, raffles and sales.

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