On Wednesday, Michael Roth spoke to a crowd inside 413 Main Street and announced plans to move the Wesleyan Bookstore to that location by next semester. Construction will begin in December and is expected to be completed by next spring.
“We’re committed to strengthening the ties between campus and Main Street,” said Roth. “Relocating Wesleyan’s bookstore is a major step in the direction, and I am so delighted that R.J. Julia Booksellers, with their phenomenal reputation, will be our partner in this effort.”
The announcement follows an initial proposal by Roth to move the bookstore back in April, in an effort to increase Main Street’s potential as a cultural hub for Wesleyan students and faculty as well as Middletown residents. The new 12,000-square-foot space is designed to host more events than the current Broad Street location, and “will improve first impressions for prospective students and families,” according to a Wesleyan Newsletter post following the announcement.
Previous attempts to move the bookstore have been met with resistance from Wes students and community members alike. In 2012, Associate Vice President for Facilities Joyce Topshe and Associate Vice President for Finance Nathan Peters unveiled a proposal for a new location on the “north side (across the street from Russell House) of Washington Street between High Street and Pearl Street,” but concerns were raised over pedestrian safety in crossing the traffic-heavy Washington Street. Jen Alexander ’88, a Wesleyan alum and parent, wrote an editorial in The Middletown Eye expressing disdain over the bookstore becoming a massive chain-owned location, an upset to the variety of independent businesses in Middletown.
A second editorial written by Karen Kaffen-Polascik and Ed Thorndike ’89, co-owners of WesWings and the Red & Black Café (the latter located in the current Broad Street Books), also reacted against the relocation. “The Red & Black Café has been an integral part of Wesleyan for almost a decade,” it stated. They argued that moving the Red & Black to a further location, or shutting it down entirely, would disrupt a popular eatery and study space on campus.
Despite Middletown mayor Dan Drew expressing support, students, faculty, and community members who attended an open forum on the relocation proposal were mostly opposed to it. As a result, plans for the move were put on hold.
The new plans have been updated to address most of the concerns raised in 2012. The Main Street location will be less hazardous to pedestrians than Washington Street, and will be more centrally-located for Middletown residents. (Due to its distance away from campus, shuttle services will be provided to the bookstore during textbook buying periods at the beginning of each semester.) Additionally, the new store’s operators, R.J. Julia Booksellers, are an independent company that has won several major awards, including Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year, Lucile Pannell award for bookselling excellence, and Connecticut Magazine Best Bookstore.
When asked on the future of the Red & Black Café and the old Broad Street location, Director of University Communications Bill Holder stated:
At present, Wesleyan has no plans for the space currently occupied by Broad Street Books. The Red & Black Café is not moving to Main Street.
Kaffen-Polascik and Thorndike provided additional information in a blog post (originally posted following the April 2016 announcement, and updated to reflect Roth’s newest statement on Wednesday):
Yesterday President Roth announced the location for the new bookstore on Main St. We want to let everyone know, the Red & Black Cafe is not moving and will remain where it is. We are in the early planning stages to reconfigure our space at 45 Broad St. and have quite a few exciting ideas, both in design and menu. We hope to make those announcements early next semester as they become more clear.
April 29, 2016
On Friday at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting, President Roth announced plans to move Broad Street Books to Main St. We want to assure all of our customers and staff that The Red & Black Cafe will not be moving as part of that relocation. Earlier this week, we met with our official contacts at Wesleyan. The Red & Black Cafe has and will continue to be an integral part of campus dining. The cafe will remain at 45 Broad St. The university has not yet decided what will fill the space vacated by the bookstore. It may be used for academic or other student uses. The plan would be to divide the space to accommodate the new tenants.
We have also had preliminary discussions with Wesleyan regarding the new bookstore on Main St and may be involved in developing a cafe within the new store.
We have a long history owning and operating dining establishments at Wesleyan and downtown Middletown. WesWings is celebrating twenty-five years in business. The Red & Black Cafe is completing its thirteenth year. Twenty years ago, we opened and ran the successful Eleanor Rigby’s Gourmet Delicatessen & Cafe on Main St. We are looking forward to continuing our great partnership with Wesleyan and excited at the possible new opportunities as well.
-Karen & Ed
The WESU.fm station and Wesleyan Argus offices, both located on the upper floor of the Broad Street location, will also remain there.
- Administration Mulls Bookstore Relocation (11/10/2012)
- Middletown Residents Speak Out Against Bookstore Relocation, Washington St. Development (11/14/2012)
- Mayor Drew Thinks Bookstore Move is a Good Idea (11/17/2012)
- Liveblogging the Bookstore Relocation Open Forum (11/27/2012)
- Bookstore Relocation Forum Follow-Up: Photos, Video Statements, and More (11/28/2012)
- Complete Video: Tuesday’s Open Forum on the Washington Street Development (11/30/2012)
- It’s Official: Bookstore Is Staying Put (12/5/2012)
- Dueling Zone Change Proposals Control Washington Street Development (1/21/2013)
- Wesleyan Plans To Move Bookstore To Middletown’s Main Street (4/29/2016, via Hartford Courant)
- Sources: Wesleyan To Announce Main Street Bookstore Location Wednesday (11/29/2016, via Hartford Courant)
- Wesleyan to Open Bookstore on Middletown’s Main Street (11/30/2016, via News @ Wesleyan)