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Wracked with problems, Yale Co-op bows out

By Ayon Nandi

Three years after losing the lease on the prime Broadway location that now houses the Yale Bookstore, the Yale Co-op has hit another stumbling block. This time, however, there may not be a solution.
DAVID GEST/YH
The Co-op, long a staple of life at Yale, may only have until the beginning of November before it finally goes under.

Wallace Inc., the firm that controls the daily operations of the Co-op's Chapel Square Mall store, decided recently to opt out of its contract with the bookstore, raising serious questions about the store's future.

The Co-op's ride down a slippery slope of financial difficulties started in 1997, when Yale University Properties elected not to renew its lease. The Co-op moved to a new storefront in the Chapel Square Mall, where it amassed over $1 million in debt, forcing the old institution to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Nov. 15, 1999.

To help the Co-op pay its debts, Wallace, Inc, a Kentucky-based firm that runs college bookstores, was brought in to manage the store's daily operations. The agreement that Wallace's made with the Co-op stipulated that it pay a flat fee to Wallace's and share a percentage of the retail profits. The new management would also stock and make all the purchases for the Co-op's bookstore.

Wallace's revamped the Co-op's layout and worked to re-invent its image as a one-stop superstore for all college necessities—books, supplies, appliances, and a wide variety of Yale gear—that still appealed to New Haven shoppers. Wallace's also considered expanding the store to include amenities similar to the Yale Bookstore—a bigger book department, later hours, and the ever-popular coffee bar. The additions were never implemented.

As the new Co-op failed to deliver the profits the new management had hoped for, relations between the Co-op and Wallace's quickly soured. A little over a year after taking over, Wallace's is pulling out of the Co-op.

In a press release sent to the Herald, Tim Prather, a vice president at Wallace's, stated, "Wallace's Bookstores has notified the Yale Co-operative Corporation that effective Nov. 1, 2000, the Company is exercising its right to end the relationship under which Wallace's is managing the Yale Co-op Store located at 924 Chapel Street, New Haven."

In the press release, Prather cited the "financial deterioration of the Co-operative Corporation" as one of the major reasons for the pullout.

Indeed, ever since the Co-op moved to its new location, it has slowly lost the textbook market to the Yale Bookstore, run by Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Inc.

"Regardless of the significant renovations and efforts we have made to restore the viability of the Yale Co-op store," Prather said, "the financial deterioration of the Co-operative Corporation continues to influence the climate in which we have to compete."

After Wallace's officially pulls out in November, the Co-op's future is uncertain. One employee of the Co-op, who wished to remain anonymous speculated that the Co-op's board might be looking for new vendors to operate the store, or that the Chapel Square property might eventually be sold outright.

Another employee, who also requested anonymity, speculated that the Co-op will close its doors permanently in late October. "I've been working here for 35 years my dad is a Yale man, and it's going to be pretty upsetting next month when, after meeting so many students for such a long time, I can't do that anymore," she said.

Presently, the store is offering many of its items at significant discounts. However, the store is not restocking any of its products or purchasing any new merchandise, according to Joe, another employee.

Joe explained this and mentioned the imminent closing of the store to a shopper looking for a new milk crate for her dorm room.

"Oh, that's sad," the shopper said. "I guess I'll go to the [other] bookstore."

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