Our business

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about Claiming Williams. The well-intentioned event attempted to address the issue of privilege in our community in order to foster understanding across racial and socioeconomic lines. The event came with much fanfare and was the center of attention for the months leading up to Feb. 5.

Under the radar, though, a few enterprising students have begun claiming Williams in a different but no less significant way. What characterizes these students is their ability to see opportunity where others find frustration when faced with the myriad of inefficient services offered by the College or the surrounding town. They took initiative and relied on their creativity to make things better. In this way, they are forging their own path to claiming Williams, one that can improve life on campus in a measurable way.

Meet Will Gruner ’11 of Portland, Ore. Frustrated with the hassle of laundry night, Will founded EZ Eph Laundry, which he describes as “a pick-up and delivery, wrap and fold laundry service.” His mission: “I believe that doing laundry at Williams is inefficient and that we have better uses for our time than waiting for timers and folding clothes. I created EZ Eph in hope that people will be genuinely relieved and eager to avoid the tedium of laundry night.”

EZ Eph, a model of simplicity, works as follows: You pay a $10 sign-up fee for an official laundry bag. Afterwards, anytime you need your laundry washed, fill out the “Pick Mine Up” form on the Web site (www.ezephlaundry.com) and leave your bag outside your room. Pickup time is Wednesday at 4 p.m. and clothes are returned, washed and folded, by 7 p.m. on Friday. Pricing is simply 99¢/lb. of clothing and you can pay by plastic. (Gruner notes that the campus washers can hold about 7.5 lbs of laundry.) With this convenient system, anybody who hates doing laundry can choose not to.

Laundry isn’t the only aspect of life on campus of which students are taking charge. Buying textbooks has always been one area of perennial dissatisfaction, which the Web site Spring Street Books hopes to alleviate. The brainchild of Joey Kiernan ’11 of Washington D.C., Spring Street Books officially launched in fall of 2008. The site offers direct links to required textbooks on Amazon.com and Half.com as well as a forum for textbook exchange. “Spring Street Books makes it easier for students to find textbooks,” Kiernan said. “It’s not about ‘down with Water Street.’ I really started this Web site [www.springstreetbooks.org.] to make things easier.”

While starting up these businesses may seem to be full of boring details and petty, yet daunting problems – the College’s secret contract with Water Street Books, for example – both of these guys simply followed their passions and did what they love to do.

Gruner, who took “Entrepreneurship as an Art Form” for Winter Study, says that enterprise might be his future career. “I’m just kind of interested in entrepreneurship – starting a business would be what I’d like to do.” So, like any good businessman, he made contacts, enlisting Joey Kiernan in creating the EZ Eph Web site and forming a partnership with Mike Zeppieri, owner of Water Works Laundry in Adams.

Like Gruner, Kiernan followed his own interests. “Web programming is something I learned on the side,” he said. Despite the fact that “there were not many professors on campus who teach Web design,” Joey decided to make the Web site himself. Recalling its creation, he said, “It was hard – I didn’t do homework for a week. I probably spent 50 hours working on the site.” Yet his work paid off. The site has been able to donate over $1500 to the 1914 Library, and that number will only grow after the Higher Education Act takes effect.

There are other Ephs out there who are doing the same thing – providing services to other students that are sorely lacking on campus. I recently came across an important maxim: we allow inconvenient situations to happen to us. Along the same lines, while others may just suck it up and buy the more expensive textbooks, these enterprising students took charge and tried to change the situation.

When we “claim” something, we proclaim that it is ours. So if we really claim Williams, then we must have the power to mold it into whatever we see fit. Unfortunately, many of us choose not to exercise that power. I implore all who read this to take the initiative to improve student life in real, tangible ways. “The more people who use it, the better it becomes,” Kiernan said. Though he was only speaking of Spring Street Books, that statement is even more relevant in a much larger sense.

Mo Zhu ’11 is from Belmont, Mass. He lives in Brooks.

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