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Bob’s closes, seeks new options

By Stephen Gruber-Miller

Bob’s Underground Café may be closed for now, but Manager Anna Halpin-Healy ’13 and Assistant Manager Elena Gartner ’14 are hoping to change that.

Bob’s, located in the basement of Main Hall, is not re-opening as a café this semester due to financial difficulties. The space will still open occasionally for open-mic nights and other events, but without the café component.

The use of Bob’s as a regular study or lounge space is more challenging due to the expensive sound equipment housed there, Halpin-Healy said. She said there would have to be some sort of supervision in Bob’s to ensure the safety of the equipment, such as unpaid student monitors.

“It’s a really valuable space and I think everyone thought that it would be a shame if it just got locked up and put away,” Halpin-Healy said.

She said she knows that Bob’s is important to Grinnellians. “The great thing about Bob’s is that I think that because there’s so much history in the walls and in the space, students feel really at home there,” she said.

It will be more difficult to reopen Bob’s as a café, however. In the past, it has not made enough money to cover payroll for its employees. This deficit, coupled with what Halpin-Healy described as a poor business plan, has caused the café to lose $221,000 since 1997 – an average of almost $15,000 per year.

“There was some improvement over the past few semesters but the losses were still in the several thousands of dollars a year, so the College finally had no choice but suspend the operation,” said Assistant Director of Residence Life Dan Hirsch, the staff advisor for the managers of Bob’s.

There will be a campus-wide information session and discussion of the future of Bob’s on Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in JRC 101.

Hirsch, Assistant Dean of Students Andrea Conner and JaMaLand RLC Autumn Wilke are some of the people helping Halpin-Healy and Gartner get Bob’s back on track as a usable space and eventually as a business.

“We’ve had all kinds of faculty and administrative staff and student support,” Gartner said, noting that they are also working with Mark Montgomery, Economics, Doug Caulkins, Anthropology and Jeff Phelps, owner of Saints Rest Coffee Shop. Gartner pointed out that with Phelps’ experience running a café in Grinnell and Montgomery’s economic knowledge, she hopes that they will be able to write a more effective business plan and fully reopen Bob’s as a café.

“Bob’s as an operation needs to be financially solvent, and achieving that status ultimately rests with the student body and the Bob’s staff,” Hirsch said.

Halpin-Healy recognizes that sometimes Bob’s might seem too out of the way to visit, saying, “it’s hard because we’re off on one corner of campus,” but she and Gartner are working to find ways of attracting more people. These methods include pursuing a relationship with SGA as well as hosting open-mic nights and concerts.

The most important thing Halpin-Healy and Gartner said they want the student body to realize is that Bob’s is not gone. They are hoping to host information sessions about the café soon and urge people to contact them at [halpinhe], [gartnere], or [bobs] if they want to learn more or find ways to help.

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  • M

    MeganSep 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Have you thought of holding a contest for students to propose an economically viable new use for the space? Maybe it isn’t coffee! Maybe it’s popcorn, a jukebox, 6 really high-value computing stations requiring a TC, or something completely different.

    Student contest to vet ideas, seed the winner with SGA’s excess reserves (as an investment) and funnel all profits to an ongoing trust fund for the space?