After racking up a 196,000 deficit in three years, SSMU has decided to permanently close Haven Books this spring.
Since the Society acquired the bookstore in 2007, it has suffered from low visibility, restrictions on campus advertising, and general indifference from students.
VP (Finance and Operations) Jose Diaz and Haven manager Ben Paris have scrambled to bring the struggling store out of the red since last summer.
The two have had little success. While the final numbers are not in yet, Haven is on track to run a deficit once again this year, adding to the $196,000 figure.
McGill’s memorandum of agreement with SSMU prevents Haven from advertising on university property. Paris believes this ban prevented the store from being successful.
“If I can’t advertise to my general student population, then it’s sort of like Tim Horton’s not being able to advertise in Canada,” Paris said.
Diaz agreed, pointing to the successful Haven franchise in Ottawa, which advertises on the Carelton campus.
“They are sanctioned by the University and it’s well-known among the student population…. It’s not a big place, but they go through a lot of books basically because they have the visibility that we do not have,” Diaz said.
But Paris is not convinced any amount of advertising would have helped the store to transcend its less-than-ideal location on Aylmer, just south of Sherbrooke.
“People know about the McGill Bookstore. People see it all the time, it’s the one that the tours show,” Paris said. “This location sucks. The only way you know about it is if you are told about it.”
Diaz searched for solutions to Haven’s financial woes, including advertising during Frosh and researching ways for the store to make money after the peak buying periods of September and January. In the end, Diaz explained, the efforts were unprofitable.
But Paris believes the decision to close the store was made by SSMU to placate the administration during negotiations concerning the society’s lease of the Shatner building.
“SSMU is negotiating for the building [and] McGill has never liked the existence of Haven… Rather than continue an operation that is potentially detrimental to operations with McGill…they decided just to close it,” Paris said.
Diaz acknowledged that before taking office, he read a number of memos from the administration to his successors, which explained that classroom announcements and advertising were prohibited.
But while Diaz said the Administration has always been stringent in its enforcement of the memorandum of agreement, Haven has not been a subject of concern their this year.
“Our discussions with the University have centered around different things this year…. Haven hasn’t gotten much attention.”
Diaz plans to implement a book swap this coming fall as a way to provide students with affordable used textbooks. Diaz hopes that if a student is unable to swap their books, they will allow SSMU to donate them to charity. He believes the University will appreciate a focus on something other than profit.
“The University really likes to see things that are student-run, that are not-for-profit, that are a service for students,” he said.
Paris is not confident that SSMU will be able to tackle the logistics of a book swap.
“Could it work? Yes. Will it work? Probably not,” he said.