Staff Editorial: Bob’s represents an indispensable part of Grinnell

“Please let me send a big fat check!” one alum commented, in response to the potential demise of Bob’s Underground Café. Last week’s article has been bombarded by comments from concerned students and alumni. The online cyber community GrinnellPlans has also exploded with an outpouring of support for Bob’s since the administration issued an ultimatum threatening to shut down the Café. The Scarlet & Black supports Bob’s and stands by those who have expressed the belief that it is an essential space that needs to remain open on campus.

As students, we know that Bob’s plays unique and integral roles on our small campus. Bob’s isn’t just the only place we can get food past midnight; it’s also one of the only cozy, comfortable areas on campus for events such as Open Mic, intimate musical performances and improv shows. Countless students tell stories of their formative experiences at Bob’s, whether they occurred as prospies, students or alumni—Bob’s has always been and remains a defining campus feature. As an informal, cozy environment, Bob’s is the place to go to find Grinnellians in their natural habitat; it gives future students insight into the type of students Grinnell shapes and the environment in which they grow. Determining Bob’s success solely by its profit-making ability is unfair to the true spirit of the institution. Rather, it should be measured by the impact it has on students’ lives, the impact it has on alumni and the impact it will have on visiting future students.

Bob’s debt is certainly problematic. There have historically been faulty management practices, such as a lack of bookkeeping and irresponsible account management. But the ultimatum issued by the administration is unreasonable. Bob’s has always operated under certain circumstances that make turning a profit very difficult, and as such has built up a deficit each year that the College continuously wiped clear. This, too, was irresponsible, and makes the sudden threat to close Bob’s seem particularly arbitrary and unsympathetic.

Changes are needed—but they cannot occur under this threat of closure and lack of institutional support. The suddenness of the administration’s fiscal demands precludes the possibility of making long-term changes to Bob’s. It further disregards difficulties that are beyond Bob’s control, as well as the unquantifiable benefits that members of the campus community, both present and past, attribute to the Café.

In comparison to other venues such as the Spencer Grill or the Bookstore, Bob’s—an entirely student-run business—is only open to students due to its location and hours. Furthermore, competing with the power of Dining Dollars is daunting at best. The fact that the Spencer Grill—with its overpriced food options and its massive Dining Dollars benefits—remains in operation year after year even with an enormous deficit only adds insult to injury.

But the point is that Bob’s is part of our community. It’s a fixture—we can no sooner shut down the Café than shorten Burling’s hours or close the CCL, as one commentator noted online. We doubt those institutions turn a profit, but they are provided for us as needed facilities on campus. Bob’s deserves the same support and consideration. Students should do what they can to demonstrate how important and beloved Bob’s is in our lives—try to frequent Bob’s as much as they frequent the library—but there also needs to be some flexibility from up above. We ask the administration to give Bob’s more than a semester to turn things around. Meanwhile, the option for alumni to donate directly to Bob’s should be considered, as has already been requested online—in fact, a dozen alumni wrote in to to express their support for Bob’s. Their comments show how much Bob’s meant to them as a part of their Grinnell experience, and they remind us how much an institution like Bob’s matters in terms of what it means to be a Grinnellian.

We beg the administration to consider how important this space is for Grinnellians and remind them that students’ and alumni’s opinions should not fall on deaf ears. If they do, it will only demonstrate how thoroughly out of touch the College is with the most enduring Grinnell traditions.