Coop Revamps Layout, Drops Credit Card in Major Makeover

* Dept. Store's Multi-Million Dollar Overhaul Wins Praise

It's moving time at every dorm on campus-and even The Coop is getting into the act.

The department store and Harvard Square landmark is in the midst of a multi-million dollar renovation and reorganization, the largest such project since The Coop assumed its current Mass. Ave. perch in the 1920s.

The renovations-which began in June and are scheduled for completion during this school year-will completely restructure The Coop buildings.

The former book building has been divided into two sections on the first floor: the Brattle St. Coop, which now houses insignia clothing; and the Palmer St. Coop, which features prints and Harvard gifts.

The renovations in each of these departments has been completed, and they are now open for business.

Renovations upstairs in the Palmer and Brattle buildings, which are scheduled to begin in October, will involve a wall treatment, flooring and a new layout. Upon completion, the second floor will house dorm items, school supplies and small electronics. The third floor will continue to stock textbooks.

Together, the Palmer and Brattle buildings will form a "collegiate Coop" geared toward students and visitors to Harvard, said Coop President Jeremiah P. Murphy Jr.'73.

Meanwhile, the main Coop building at 1400 Mass. Ave., which contains the historic Great Hall, is closed for construction and will reopen in November as a new bookstore dubbed The Harvard Square Coop.

The attached neighboring building, which once contained stationery and school supplies and currently stocks dorm room items, will soon be taken over by BankBoston, which owns the property-forcing The Coop to consolidate and reorganize its merchandise.

"It's really time for The Coop to change its attitude and strategy," Murphy said. "This is the first time in 75 years that we're back down to the bare walls."

A Coup for Book-Lovers

While some say the building's renovations may make the new book building more closely resemble the spacious Barnes and Noble superstores found throughout the nation, in fact little is changing in the two-year relationship between The Coop and the bookselling giant.

In 1995, The Coop hired Barnes and Noble to manage its bookselling operation. The company has since managed the bookstore in strategies devised by The Coop's elected board of directors. This arrangement will continue when the bookstore is reopened.

Some local booksellers recently expressed concern about Barnes and Noble's presence in the Square. But Murphy said the renovations should not increase such worries.

"It's not going to be a Barnes and Noble-it's still The Coop," he said. "We hired Barnes and Noble as manager of our operations in September 1995. If it had any impact, [other booksellers] would have had concerns up to this date."

The new book building will have a "library feel," Murphy said. The store will continue to stock an assortment of both academic and nonacademic titles, and will add a "Coop Cafe" and seating areas throughout the store. Hours will also be extended, though the exact times have not been set.

"Our goal is to draw more people who are book-lovers to Harvard Square," Murphy said. "We want to make [The Coop] an environment conducive to browsing and staying around, an environment that people want to come to and spend some time and hopefully purchase items."

To achieve this goal, The Coop hired a local contractor to maintain and restore the historic architecture and detail of the Great Hall and will add a catwalk and grand staircase toward the rear for more space and greater accessibility.

Charge!

Along with the physical renovations, The Coop is abandoning the traditional Coop card in favor of a new Coop Visa card.

When The Coop card debuted about 20 years ago, Murphy says, it was unique in offering college students the chance to pay by credit. Now, however, the credit function of The Coop card is outdated.

"We really felt that most students come here and pick up a MasterCard or Visa," Murphy said. "You all can get credit in a lot of different places."

Instead of offering students the option of charging items at The Coop to the inhouse Coop card, all students will be offered a Coop Visa card sponsored by First USA Bank.

The new card can be used wherever Visa is accepted.

The Coop Visa cards have been made out in the names of every first-year student, and are available at The Coop. Returning students will receive a mailing in October that pitches the new card.

"It's a very good deal for students, quite frankly," Murphy said. "Where else can you walk in and have a Visa card waiting for you?"

The Coop will continue to accept its in-house credit card until at least October, Murphy said, meaning students can buy textbooks on their current Coop accounts.

Students who do not wish to sign up for the new Visa card will be able to retain a Coop membership card.

For employees of the Coop's credit department, Murphy said, the shift to Visa will mean redeployment or possible layoffs.

"We still have to maintain the membership rolls and records. We still have to maintain some of the functions" of the credit department, Murphy said. "As we deal with some of the people here, we'll hopefully find other jobs for them. We want to minimize or avoid layoffs wherever possible."

Murphy also pledged that the cooperative nature of the company, in which members are eligible for a share of profits, will remain intact.

"The Cooperative is the structure that we have believed in since 1882, and we'll continue to do so," Murphy said. "That's part of our mission and that's not going to change."

The Coop has reported losses for the past three years. But last month, General Manager Allan E. Powell told The Crimson that he expects The Coop to turn a profit this year, meaning that members may receive a rebate.

According to Murphy, The Coop will announce in late September whether the company made a profit during the last fiscal year.

I Like It Like This

Customers leaving the renovated Palmer Street Coop last Saturday seemed pleased with the work-in-progress.

"I like it-it looked really neat," said Nestor Tomycz'01, an art fan who had browsed in the new prints section with his parents.

Alex Dowling, whose parents are the masters of Leverett House, said she has shopped at the Coop all her life and is happy with the changes.

"I like it, except I can't figure out where anything is," Dowling said. "It seems like they carry everything now."

Natane A. Singleton '01 visited The Coop during pre-frosh weekend and said the renovations were an improvement.

"It's nice," Singleton said. "It offers a lot of variety."

However, not all of the visitors said they were pleased with the new look. Sangeeta Gupta, a medical student at Tufts, said the renovated spaces seem geared to tourists looking for Harvard merchandise.

"When I came here a long time ago it didn't look like this," Gupta said. "This looks more like a mall or a museum store than a campus store."

But Singleton's mother, Hamida S. Ward, said the renovation "shows class"-unlike the stationery building across the street, currently a make-shift space selling dorm items, close-outs and other merchandise.

"It just reminded me of K-Mart-no, not K-Mart, of one of those bargain basement stores," Ward said of the stationery building. "It's so sparse."