The following is a letter I initially sent to thank a Wesleyan student and lifelong resident of Middletown who was quoted in a recent issue of the Wesleyan Argus, speaking in opposition to the development proposal on Washington St.
In writing the letter, and in sharing it here, my hope is to reach those who might be part of the ultimate decision - students, administrators, and residents alike - to give my experience, and to put a face to one person who could be affected by the outcome.
Thank you for the opportunity,
My name is Justin Good, and for the past 5 years I've been working at Broad Street Books. A few days ago I read the Argus article concerning the proposal to move the bookstore, in which you were referenced and quoted. Above all else, I wanted to thank you for sharing your viewpoint, and your opinion on why moving the bookstore would not be a good idea. As you grew up in the area, your personal experiences and knowledge of others' experiences and feelings, I believe, is a valuable addition to the discussion.
I wanted to write you both to thank you, and also to give you a brief document of my own experiences and feelings concerning the matter, as I've lived most of my life nearby, and have worked at the bookstore for longer than any other place of employment, for good reason. My hope is that, as a member of the WSA, and as a student and member of the community, you can potentially share this letter both with your fellow members, and any other public forum you deem useful, or necessary.
The email that went out last Friday was the first any of us in the bookstore and in the Red & Black Café heard about the possibility of a change. Since then, to be honest, a lot of us have been confused and scared. Everyone I know who works in the bookstore and café enjoys their job immensely, and some of them have been working there for over 10 years, back when the store was still owned by Atticus. I love the environment, the people I work with, and the people I work for - as in the customers, students, faculty, staff, and residents of Middletown and beyond. Something I worry that gets forgotten in all the matters regarding the University and the store is the fact that, in addition to being Wesleyan's bookstore, we are also a local, public bookstore, open to any and all.
Both during the school year and during the summer we are regularly serving the people who live in town, local elementary, middle, and high-schools, and community organizations of all sorts (Middletown Adult Education, the Chamber of Commerce, local book fairs, authors, and writing conferences, etc.). When most people are away from campus, we remain open, helping people find gifts for their friends and families, the next book for their book club, or simply something new and exciting to read. We are tied into the lives of those who are part of the Wesleyan community and those who are not. Despite the dire reality of the book industry and book publishers at the moment, we have actually been up in sales from last year, which I think reflects the effort put forth by the people who work in our store, and their push to serve those who visit us as best they can.
Out of the nearly 1,000 bookstores in our company, spread throughout the U.S. and Canada, our store is one of the most active in terms of author, writing, and book events. We offer our services to so many different events, not because they're big money makers, but to remain active in the Wesleyan and surrounding community, making available for sale the books put out by local writers and professors. We offer the space and service of our store to self-published authors who walk in off the street, looking to attract attention toward their new novel or memoir. We are working on revamping our Alumni and Faculty book section, adding to the volume and availability of new and old titles, as its importance to both the authors themselves and those interested in, or already part of the University, is great.
My hope is that the students and anyone else who might be involved in such a decision consider what this change would mean to the people who work at the bookstore and café, as well as to the people who live and work in Middletown year-round, whose entire lives are invested in this area and its condition. I've spoken to people who work in the independently-owned businesses that would be affected by such a move, and decision, and they are all surprised and concerned that Wesleyan would look at the matter as something that could improve the University's relations with the community of Middletown. I don't think it would be difficult to foresee that placing a Starbucks within one or two blocks of two locally-owned and locally-dependent coffee shops could be devastating to their survival. The people who own and work in those shops are the true face of Middletown, and the reality of who will be affected by such a decision.
For the most part, I see the students and faculty of Wesleyan as being very involved and interested in issues that pertain to individuals being faced by big institutions and companies, usually with the support going toward the individual. I also know that Wesleyan makes a great effort to involve itself with the outside community of Middletown, be it with Green Street or Traverse Square. This, to me, signifies a desire in supporting the area immediately outside of campus, and being sensitive to its own aims and needs. I think, if one listens or speaks to those who are invested in that area, as individuals, it becomes immediately apparent what their feelings are on the issue.
I've read comments that a Starbucks, etc., might go up in the area regardless of Wesleyan's decision, but I hesitate to accept that as truth. The developer proposing this plan, I'm sure, is approaching Wesleyan to be its anchor tenant for a reason - and although I don't profess to know the rules and procedures involving zoning, streets, and property, having an educational institution on the land, from what I've read, can get one around what would otherwise be restrictions concerning adding retail stores and restaurants to the area.
In all, I can understand why, when presented with a new idea and its prospects of change, some students might be interested in furthering the discussion, approving the decision to hear and consider more. But as someone who works here and lives here, and knows so many people who would be hurt by this decision, I urge those involved to reconsider.
No matter what anyone says, people could lose their jobs because of this, and local, independent businesses have a chance of suffering immensely. The people who work in the bookstore and in Red & Black Café want to serve our customers to the best of our ability, and I'm confident that, anything in terms of service or operations that one might think could improve with this change, we can in fact exceed, if only people ask. It's important to me that our store is always something we can be proud of - I, and the people I work with, wouldn't want to be here otherwise.
Thank you, again, so much for your words, and let me know if I can help with anything at all, or if you have any questions.