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Bookstore's new digs, cafe a hit so far

After months of renovations, traffic at the Brown Bookstore is picking up again, said Assistant Vice President for Financial and Administrative Services Elizabeth Gentry, who is serving as the bookstore's interim director.

The renovations, which included adding a new cafe and relocating the textbook section, began in August. Though initial plans called for work to be finished in early January, workers were still finishing up when students returned from winter break, Gentry said. But by mid-February, all of the "little things" had been "cleared up," she said.

The store celebrated its grand opening on March 5, with food, live music and a ceremonial ribbon-cutting.

The store's new look comes with expanded hours as well. The cafe - officially called the College Hill Cafe, but operated by Blue State Coffee - and the general books area are now open until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Bookstore personnel are "still adjusting" to the remodeled space and new hours, Gentry said.

But despite some kinks, Gentry said she received "very, very positive" feedback from students and community members who have visited the bookstore recently. "They're shocked, actually," at the difference between the new store and the old one, she said.

"It really is a different place," said Gentry. "I think the changes are quite exciting."

Joy Liu '11 said she liked the store's new layout and had an easier time finding her textbooks during shopping period. "I think everything's more organized now," she said.

While she rarely visits the "actual bookstore," she said she likes to study at the College Hill Cafe.

Other students agreed the cafe was the most popular new addition.

On Wednesday morning, a few students browsed computers on display and shelves of popular fiction, but nearly all of the tables and armchairs in the cafe area were occupied by students chatting, studying, sipping coffee and eating muffins and croissants.

Elissa Barba '09 said she liked the cafe's proximity to main campus. Though the Blue State Coffee on Thayer is only a few blocks away, "I rarely go up that far," she said. "I really hate Starbucks coffee, so it's nice to have a Blue State closer."

Barba said the cafe is "almost too small to accommodate enough people," particularly at lunchtime.

According to Josh McCarthy, the cafe's manager, its busiest hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., when students are going to and from class.

The cafe has received "enthusiastic response from College Hill," McCarthy said. "Sales are building every day."

This Tuesday was the cafe's busiest day of sales since it opened Feb. 5, he said.

Like the Blue State on Thayer, the bookstore's cafe offers coffee, tea and Seven Stars Bakery pastries, but it also offers soups and sandwiches from other local vendors, including Narragansett Creamery and Local 121.

"We're definitely pushing for more of a lunch focus," McCarthy said.

The cafe plans to allow students to pay with their Brown declining balance accounts, an option that should be available within a month, McCarthy said.

"We expect it to be very popular," he said.

McCarthy said he is also looking for "musically-inclined students" to participate in open-mic events on Friday and Saturday nights, when the cafe has not been as busy.

"We're trying to reinforce the bookstore as a destination for the community," McCarthy said.


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