In January 2019, a budget shortfall necessitated the difficult decision to lock the beloved, student-run cafe’s doors after it had been struggling with a financial crisis for years. After two unsuccessful attempts to revitalize the cafe, NCSA President Sofia Lombardi is spearheading an effort to reopen the student space sometime this fall of 2021.
Lombardi is collaborating with senior administrators and a student focus group, which has been meeting for a few weeks to discuss reopening plans that are both COVID safe and financially sound. The latter has been the biggest obstacle to overcome in trying to unlock the Four Winds’ doors.
The cafe has been a treasured part of campus since it was formed after an Independent Study Project in the early 1990s. Four Winds provided students with a space to study and relax with friends, as well as vegan and vegetarian food options.
When the cafe first had to shut its doors in January 2019, it was over $8,000 in debt, in addition to another $2,000 in administrative fees that were yet to be paid. Furthermore, when taking a look at the financial history of the Four Winds from 2004 to 2018, the cafe had not been profitable without subsidy support from the NCSA’s budget. The size of the NCSA budget is directly tied to enrollment: as the amount of students has been dropping in recent years, so has the budget.
|Plan 1: Four Winds Operates as normal in the Spring and NCSA pays off all debt||Plan 2: Four Winds is closed for the Spring Semester||Plan 3: The Four Winds stays open until they collect $4,000 in debt|
|FIRST CHOICE: 77||FIRST CHOICE: 78||FIRST CHOICE: 61|
|SECOND CHOICE: 42||SECOND CHOICE: 36||SECOND CHOICE: 138|
|THIRD CHOICE: 97||THIRD CHOICE: 102||THIRD CHOICE: 17|
Since the student-run Four Winds closed its doors, it has not been able to open again in the same way. A student-run Four Winds Committee crafted a business plan to revitalize the cafe as an autonomous space, but the plans fell through over the summer of 2019. Then, in October 2019, Metz management reopened the cafe with a limited menu for a few months, but it closed at the end of the fall semester because it was not profitable.
“The reason we had to close in the end was because we were only making an average of around $60 a week,” Ella Denham-Conroy, a former student employee who graduated in spring 2020, said to the Catalyst in February of last year. “And there was hardly anyone coming in, which I’m sure had to do with the fact that it wasn’t really the Four Winds that everyone knew. It was just kind of empty inside.”
To re-open the cafe again and integrate student feedback, Lombardi offered to create a focus group of students in order to amplify student voices in the reopening, as well as speeding the process along.
“I was asking Christian Kinsley, the Vice President for Finance and Administration, for an update on when Four Winds would reopen, because I was initially told that we were good for an August or September opening,” Lombardi detailed. “But I was told it was actually leaning more towards November, maybe even a Spring 2022 opening. They said if we wanted to include a lot of student input, it would slow the process down, which is why I offered to create the focus group.”
The focus group’s meetings discuss necessary logistics such as how many employees would need to be hired at the time of reopening, what will be offered on the menu and where the food will come from. Of course, the financial burden is still the most pressing issue.
“Currently, the plan is to market the Four Winds as more of a study space in order to pull money from the Education & General (E&G) funds,” Lombardi explained.
E&G funds, allocated from the state legislature, can only be used for study spaces, which is why the cafe needs to be marketed as such. Moving forward, the focus group will continue to meet in the summer to make final decisions on everything regarding the cafe, from employment to interior and exterior aesthetic renovations.
“Four Winds is everything that New College is about, in terms of putting things in students’ hands,” Lombardi said. “I’m really hoping we can bring Four Winds back to the previous level of student control in a safe and smart way.”