Over the summer, multiple businesses came to and left Spring Street. While we at the Record echo the student body’s appreciation for several new business ventures in town, the closure of longtime favorites leaves students without the conveniences offered by Ephporium and the Newsroom.
While incoming students may not realize how important a small grocery store like Ephporium was, we believe that its closure was a great loss to the College community. Ephporium provided basic groceries that now can only be found at more distant stores – requiring students to drive to the nearest supermarket, arrange a ride with another student or organize their day around the bus schedule to purchase basic necessities. The lack of a grocery store on Spring Street is particularly problematic for first-year students, who are not allowed to bring cars to campus. These students know fewer upperclassmen and thus have a difficult time getting rides. Additionally, the lack of a grocery store in downtown Williamstown may act as a deterrent for prospective students, especially considering Williamstown’s already remote location.
We at the Record realize that the market in Williamstown is limited. The student body is highly transient, only present on campus for nine months out of the year, requiring businesses to formulate a plan for servicing a summer tourist season in addition to the student body.
Moreover, prices of goods being delivered to Williamstown often have high premium costs due to the town’s remote location. Consequently, stores like Ephorium have to sell goods at inflated prices to break even financially. These high prices create two problems: They make it difficult to sell products and prevent students on a budget from buying these necessities. However, because the College owns the buildings that these stores lease, rent for these spaces is kept at a minimum, alleviating some of the financial pressure of running businesses in such spaces. We commend the College for providing its tenants with lower rental costs than a commercial landlord would provide.
We also appreciate the College’s efforts to find a new tenant that serves a similarly convenient function to Ephporium. We believe that it is in the College’s best interest to find a replacement quickly – both to make basic grocery items available to current students and to make Spring Street and Williamstown as attractive as possible to future students. The Record encourages the administration to continue the search for a new Spring Street vendor that would offer necessities within walking distance of campus.
However, it’s important to note that simply replacing Ephporium with a similar store may not be the ideal solution. Because prices are high in Williamstown, many students were deterred from purchasing groceries at Ephporium in the first place. From a student’s perspective, a cheap grocery store within walking distance would be ideal, though we recognize the financial difficulties that opening such a business would present. The student body and College Council (CC), as well as the administration, should consider whether this is an opportunity to search for a new solution to the lack of affordable shopping options in Williamstown.
Among the options available to the College is that of a student- or college-operated convenience store on the vacant properties. Many campuses already have such stores, which successfully provide much-needed services to students. A college-run store could accept EphPoints or meal swipes to pay for food and grocery items and could help make these items more affordable and readily available to students without cars or who cannot afford the higher grocery costs typical of convenience stores. As another potential alternative to renting the College property to a grocery vendor, CC has explored the option of purchasing toiletry vending machines for campus. While we appreciate the suggestion of bringing toiletry vending machines to campus, we believe that such a solution would not adequately address the dearth of local grocery options.
Finally, we believe that the College should encourage and collect student ideas for stores in the available spaces on Spring Street. Not only do students represent a significant portion of Spring Street’s market, but they have also shown a flair for making such decisions. Polling the student body to determine whether certain products and price ranges would receive student patronage would help the businesses on Spring Street succeed and address students’ needs.
The closing of Ephporium has exposed a need that is currently not being met and should be seen as an opportunity to explore new – and potentially superior – options.