Selling beer to students shouldn't be hard -

Selling beer to students shouldn’t be hard

But when campus pubs lose money, shut ’em down


Photo of an English pub by fabbio on Flickr

A few students at the University of Windsor are fighting to save their troubled campus pub.

Many more students are likely asking: but why?

The Thirsty Scholar, inside the CAW Centre on campus, will reopen in the fall as a small licensed cafe and bookshop, after the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance (which owns the space), turned it over to the campus bookstore in a 10-year lease deal, reports The Windsor Star.

You may have heard of the Thirsty Scholar before, even if you don’t live in southwestern Ontario. It’s the bar that closed for a week in March after at least three people were stabbed in an early morning fight nearby.

While that triple-stabbing got plenty of attention, the bigger crime is the $1.2-million in debt that the pub has accrued in the name of University of Windsor students after years of inexplicable losses.

Whatever the reasons for its failure, outgoing UWSA president André Capaldi is right when he says that continuing to prop up the bleeding business does a disservice to students who pay the bills.

So why did Sami Habib, a UWSA board member, tell CBC News he will try to have the bookstore contract cancelled? Why have he and 55 others have “liked” a Facebook page called SAVE UWIN PUB? (I can think of at least one possible reason for all the likes: the pub has 50 employees.)

It doesn’t take an accounting major to realize how unreasonable it would be to keep it open. The $1.2-million debt works out to $100 for each of the 12,000 students represented by the UWSA. That could have bought about fifteen rounds for each student at any of Windsor’s other drinking establishments, which somehow manage to make money without huge annual student subsidies.

Better yet, that $1.2-million could have funded bursaries or textbooks or tuition or a food bank.

The outgoing UWSA executive did the right thing by turning the pub space over to the bookstore.

Other student unions with money-losing pubs—and there are a surprising number of them—should follow the lead. They should also remember the Thirsty Scholar when starting new businesses. The University of British Columbia students planning a brewery might consider this a cautionary tale.

You’d think selling beer to university students would be a sure route to profit. Clearly it isn’t.

When campus pubs lose money, student unions have a responsibility to shut off the taps.

Josh Dehaas is the editor of Maclean’s On Campus. Follow him on Twitter @JoshDehaas. Follow @maconcampus and like us on Facebook to keep up with our daily opinion and university news.


Selling beer to students shouldn’t be hard

  1. Maybe it would make sense if the execs didn’t do by a closed door meeting without the opinion of the students represented… not to mention the decision to sell out students was made hours before the UWSA’s execs terms expired…

  2. “the $1.2-million in debt that the pub has accrued in the name of University of Windsor students after years of inexplicable losses”

    The pub had more employees than the average bar twice its size. I don’t think inexplicable is the right word to use.

  3. There were options for dealing with the pub’s debt other than completely closing it, so this article seems to be pretty biased because it makes such ridiculous assumptions in favour of the actions of the past executives and regardless of student opinion. So, the decision itself is very debatable and not as clear cut as the author here tries to make it.

    However, the bigger issue is the unacceptable way the executives went about making this huge decision. Apparently, it was signed HOURS before their term ended. And students were completely marginalized to the point that both the Board of Directors and Council were kept completely in the dark, let alone the student body itself having any input.

    It really seems like there was a deliberate effort to rush this decision through secretly. As a UWSA Councilor, I have represent student opinion to the best of my ability and keep the executives accountable, and every student I’ve spoken to so far has been upset with the decision itself and/or the way it was made. Therefore, I completely support our Board of Directors (it’s not just Sami) in their efforts to achieve some sort of accountability over this and to rectify the situation.

  4. I know of at least a few reasons as to why the Pub continuously loses money – those 50 employees, for the most part, spend half their time not actually working, but either standing around talking, sitting down and texting, or just goofing off. That in itself, I don’t get worked up about. But I saw all this happening, as I waited to even have a server stop by my table. At the 3 hour mark, after having not yet been served, I left a message on my table and walked out. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that all my friends liked to just go there and hang out, I never would have come back.

    As it stands, I believe it’s good riddance to the Pub. Especially if they don’t bring back all the employees that cause such problems. But for the work they did, the Thirsty Scholar could have employed maybe half the people and functioned just as well.

  5. This happened at the U of Manitoba as well, it wasn’t student owned though. Mistakes were made all over though. They insisted on being open every night of the week instead of focusing on the big nights, and they opened at 10 AM until 2 pm each and every weekday. They never had a lunch rush, maybe 3 people and yet they always had 6 or 7 people on staff. Running a bar on campus is easy and guaranteed income due to first years coming in year after year. To be successful, the bar has to have good food and have it set as a restaurant by day to attract school staff, and bar by night. If they can pull that off, there is no reason why any bar should fail under those conditions.

  6. Many students who attend university are not old enough to drink. Why would a 17 year old want to subsidize something that is not accessible. The bookstore/cafe makes more sense. I applaud the group for making such a brave decision but I’m surprised that this wasn’t done sooner. Hopefully the 50 employees will be able to find work at the bookstore. If not perhaps they will be able to work at a pub that is more profitable so that they can make more tips.