Subway: An exception on Spring St.

“If it was up to the students, there’d be two Subways,” said Adam Jacobson ’03, commenting on the popular fast food chain at the intersection of Spring St. and Walden St. “How else are people supposed to lose one hundred and sixty pounds in five months?”

Perhaps this student support fuels the ominous stories circulating campus about Subway’s past and future. A popular eatery for both students and townspeople, Subway has been a part of Williamstown for about eight years now. The Connors family, the present franchise owner, has been managing it since last August. Anne Connors seemed happy to talk about their experiences.

“My husband loves it,” she said brightly as she looked out over the packed tables. “He knows a lot of the students.”

Franchise rules vary from one company to the next. Subway Restaurants, a 25-year-old business, does not run a single one of its 16,006 establishments worldwide. All of them are independently owned as units. Anyone who takes a two-week course and passes an exam can purchase and operate a Subway. The franchise charges new owners $10,000 for a franchise fee. Start-up costs can range anywhere from $54,000 to $175,000.

Most students aren’t really that concerned with the bureaucratic machinery behind Subway. Rumors concerning another technicality, however, have started to draw attention. They vary in specifics, but all point to Subway as an endangered abnormality in Williamstown.

“I heard that Subway sort of snuck in under the guise of an ordinary family restaurant, and the Town Council never realized that it was a chain. Now the Council wants to cancel their lease, supposedly,” said Liz Hambleton ’05. “Someone said that during First Days. I’ve never really quite believed it.”

“They petitioned to be let in, but after the council decided to let them in, they said no other chains were welcome. The choice was post-Subway,” said Afton Johnson ’05.

It makes sense that Williamstown would be leery of Taco Bells and KFCs lighting up quaint Spring St. 24 hours a day, but would they actually exile the unobtrusive Subway that so placidly feeds college students? Is it even legal to prevent chains from establishing themselves in a town?

“They weren’t allowed in my town,” said Emily Ente ’05. However, the fact that Williamstown could outlaw franchises doesn’t necessarily mean that it has chosen to do so. The town cares a lot about beautification. Nonetheless, most students feel that banning every chain in America from Spring St. seems extreme.

“The rumor has to be false,” said a surprised Connors. She is unaware of any laws prohibiting franchises in Williamstown. Fortunately for everyone, the authorities agree with her.

Both Mary Kennedy, Town Clerk, and Michael Card, Director of Inspection Services, denied that any law or ruling prevented franchises in Williamstown. “That’s not true,” said Kennedy, pointing out other chains such as Cumberland Farms that also exist within the limits of Williamstown.

Card explained that the town’s only problem lies with garish or unappealing signs. Even so, he noted, the Code of the Town of Williamstown says that “A franchise dealer may display the trademark of his product on his sign.” Clearly, no such law would exist if franchises were illegal in the first place.

That begs the popular question, why don’t we have any other fast food restaurants out here? “It’s a matter of economics. I think there’s not that much of a market for fast-food (in Williamstown) that’s not already satisfied,” said Card.

McDonalds, Taco Bell and KFC have all considered building restaurants in Williamstown. The problem again and again is that there’s no available location both on Route 2 and within walking distance from campus. Apparently, 2,000 students do not provide sufficient demand on their own.

In short, franchises are perfectly welcome in Williamstown provided they take the proper procedures and keep their signs reasonable. That means that there’s no local complaint against Subway, and their lease is secure from the wrath of an angry Town Council. Card is happy to confirm that: “Your Subway is safe.”

So how did the rumors get started? It’s unclear. No one really seems to remember where they first heard that franchises were illegal. Some, like Hambleton, were skeptical. Others rattled it off as fact. About half the students interviewed had heard some version of the story, but not one of the adults in town had. It’s probably impossible by now to tell how the theory was created.

No matter what, Subway is a reasonably permanent fixture in Williamstown, and most students see this as good news. It’s a decent, relatively cheap alternative when the snack bar gets old and no one feels like pizza.

“The townies needed a fine dining establishment,” added Ente. “I also think that stoop out front is perfect for sitting, smoking and brooding, because there are always plenty of weird people doing that as I pass by.”

Meredith Jacob ’03 agreed and claimed that she never saw Subway as endangered. “It’s not like Canterbury’s, where drunk people come pouring out in the middle of the night and break things.” Her statement is especially ironic given another unconfirmed campus rumor. According to some, Subway now closes earlier to avoid rowdy students from hassling the people behind the counter late at night.