I, for one, welcome our new corporate overlords…
Watch out, dude, they’re trying to sell us out to the man!
In brief, the University is trying to change up the way it manages the vendors who visit Usdan. As of now, Frank Marsilli, the Usdan facilities and events manager, directly books the vendors, as he has been doing so for the past sixteen years. This year, the University is planning to hire a third-party company, Kiosk Connections, to manage this program and bring in more vendors beginning after Spring Break. These guys are a pretty big company that, as they put it, connects “corporations and specialty retail vendors”: Mary Kay, Avon, to name a few. Their clients range from AT&T to Pfizer to Lockheed Martin.
In other words, not universities.
Alright, so this sounds pretty shitty. And if you’ve been talking to Malcolm Tent—the goateed guy who’s been selling used records at Wesleyan for seventeen years, bonding with more than a few students in the process—it definitely sounds shitty. According to Malcolm, with the way the new program will work, he—and presumably the other regular vendors—won’t be able to afford to keep coming. He really appreciates the Wesleyan community and doesn’t want to lose being a part of it.
“I’ve enjoyed every second of my time here at Wes,” Malcolm said via email. “I’ve met many wonderful people—students and staff alike. I consider Wes to be an enlightened and truly progressive group of people and I’d hate to have to stop coming here because I couldn’t afford it.”
So why the heck is the University doing this? you might ask. In the past five years, the number of vendors has steadily decreased. At this point, there are only about 40 regular vendors, who sell mostly vintage goods and jewelry. There used to be a vendor for practically every day of the semester, but now there are a ton of unbooked days. Bringing in Kiosk Connections will mean access to an array of hundreds of new sellers. After all, the University is a business, and, especially with the current financial situation, the administration is always looking for ways to generate revenue.
But Marsilli is just as apprehensive about this as you probably are. He realizes just how different this company’s approach is in comparison to the Wesleyan spirit. And while he’s spoken to some of their other clientele about their experiences, he says he has to question the validity and reliability of their responses and their application to the Wesleyan environment.
Most importantly, Marsilli wants to be able to shape and control the way the program works. As he puts it, the University will dictate what kind of vendors will come in. “We don’t want something corporate, nameless, faceless,” he said. He makes it clear that things are still in the experimental phase, and that this is not necessarily a permanent switch.
Additionally, Marsilli wants to make it work for folks like Malcolm and others to keep coming to Wes. He knows how important these people are to the Wesleyan community; as he says, Malcolm is “more than a vendor, he’s a cultural icon.” When Malcolm comes to Usdan, his table isn’t just a location for an economic transaction. It’s a place to bond with fellow record-collectors, chat about music, marvel at Malcolm’s rare Smiths footage. Marsilli has gotten Kiosk Connections to waive their application fee for current vendors here (half of whom are already on Kiosk’s roster), and he will maintain hold over one or two days each week to bring in whom he wants. More than anything, Marsilli wants to make sure that this change doesn’t conflict with the interests of the Wesleyan community.
Is the Wesleyan philosophy and spirit being compromised by these changes? Matt Adelman ’13 sees it that way. “Isn’t Wesleyan all about small/local business?” Adelman questioned. “Malcolm is an awesome dude and I look forward to his visits. I would hate to see some new policy have him cut off.”
Malcolm thinks similarly. He feels that the current vendor program is not so much about “generating revenue [as it is] about enriching the on-campus experience for all involved,” and he doesn’t see it working well with a corporate third-party system getting involved.
Should we be challenging these changes, or are they just part of the way the University’s system works? Is this just following in the pattern of the attempted Washington Street development? Plus, there’s the question of whether we really need new, commercial vendors selling generic crap. Dylan Nelson ’15 certainly doesn’t think so.
“I’d rather see this new arrangement not happen at all,” Nelson commented. “It’s still driving out small business owners and making it harder for them, even if they can come on a reduced schedule. I’d rather give my money to small business. On top of that, the wares that the current vendors sell aren’t something I can simply pop online and buy from Amazon.”
Frank Marsilli seems to be extremely aware of all of these concerns, and is working his hardest to make sure these changes will become integrated into the Wesleyan community and only help to make it stronger. In other words, things may continue to look almost exactly at the same. But at the same time, Marsilli keeps accidentally calling the company “Corporate Connections,” perhaps revealing just how business-oriented it all is. We’ll just have to wait and see.
* * *
Update on March 22, 2013: According to an email Malcolm Tent forwarded to Wesleying, “Student comment/protest has delayed any change in the Wesleyan vendor program for the remainder of this academic year.”