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Coop Restructures, Remodels for Fall

By Andrew K. Mandel

The 115 year-old Harvard Cooperative is going for a new look and a new attitude.

Last week, the Harvard Square Coop began a full gutting of their 1400 Mass. Ave. property and a "cosmetic renovation" of the Book Building on Brattle and Palmer Streets, according to Martin R. Flanagan, construction supervisor of the project.

The restructured Coop will be fronted by a trade bookseller similar in format to Barnes and Noble, complete with couches and a "Coop Cafe."

The Coop's grand renovation plans coincide with brighter financial news for the business which has reported losses for the past three fiscal year.

While he said he cannot be certain until the fiscal year is over, General Manager of the Coop Allan E. Powell said "we expect this year to earn a profit."

Generally when the Coop has turned a profit, it has given its members a rebate. If this happens, it would be the first time in four years.

"That would be a step in the right direction," said Jeffrey S. Gleason '99. "I'd like to see the business succeed."

Renovations

By late fall, the "Great Hall," a section of the Coop which has sold Harvard insignia merchandise for generations, will be totally revamped to become part of the Coop Book Store.

Coop President Jeremiah P. Murphy Jr. '73 said Harvard deserves the "finest academic bookstore in the world," and the Coop hopes to fill that role.

The current Book Building will be converted into a "collegiate Coop," stocking dorm and school supplies, prints, insignia products, textbooks and basic men's and women's wear and is scheduled to open before the back-to-school rush.

According to Murphy, this multimillion dollar project will be the largest scale renovation since the Cooperative moved into its current location on Mass. Ave. in the 1920s.

Murphy said the Coop has been planning a change of direction for years.

After several years of "self-assessment and strategic planning," the Cooperative Society decided to change its format from a "department store model" to an "academic bookstore that happens to sell other things," Murphy said.

Coop officials said the enterprise needed to alter its focus to remain viable.

"It is unrealistic for the Coop not to change with the rest of the world," Powell said. "This is about survival."

Powell said surveys and research indicated that "students wanted a store for the academic community."

To meet that need, the Coop hired Barnes and Noble in 1995 to serve as a "manager of operations" and to oversee the day-to-day running of the business.

"We couldn't have done this alone," Powell said. "We needed a partner."

Murphy emphasized that although Barnes and Noble will play a large role in the management of the remodeled stores, the Coop name, inventory and cooperative nature of the society will remain.

In addition, Coop officials are taking steps to maintain the "Harvard feel" of the historic Cooperative.

"We want to maintain architectural character of the Great Room," Powell said.

"The pillars will remain and the coloration will not be Barnes and Noble greens, it will be Harvard reds."

Flanagan said Hirsch Contractors, also in charge of the recent renovations to the Coops at Kendall Square and at Longwood Medical Center, plans to establish much of the grandeur and structural detail characteristic of a restored historic building.

Additions to the great Hall will include a catwalk to add more room for bookshelves, as well as a grand staircase toward the back of the store.

Although there are several additions and alterations planned for the project, the Coop will be losing approximately twenty-percent of its selling space, Murphy said.

The building that housed the store's stationery department for decades will no longer be a part of the Cooperative after this year.

When BankBoston, owner of the Stationery Building, failed to renew the Coop's lease for an extended period of time, the Coop decided to use their option to leave the building in 1998, Powell said.

The Coop has factored this loss of space into their merchandising strategy and has slightly reduced the depth of their product line.

Murphy said the Coop will reduce the stock of certain items rather than eliminating breadth.

This type of restructuring is designed to bring profits back to the Coop.

Community leaders see the renovation as a positive move for the Square.

Executive Director of Harvard Square Business Association Kristin T. Sudholz said she is satisfied with the Coop's plans to "maintain the essence and the architectural detail" of the Great Hall.

Sudholz said that area bookstores will not really be affected by the Coop's changes.

"Most bookstores have carved our a niche of their own," Sudholz said. "And stores like Wordsworth have shown their resilience through efforts like the Curious George annex."

Many store representatives concur. "I can't imagine that it will make a difference. It hasn't affected us this far," said Kate Damon, assistant manager of the Globe Corner Bookstore.

"If anything, we are getting more business because of the mess over there," Damon said.

Tyler Stewart, owner of Pandemonium, a science-fiction and fantasy bookstore in the Square, said his shop targets a specialized readership that the Coop Book Store would not affect.

Although Stewart noted that "there's been an ongoing conflict between smaller stores and superstores," he said that, overall, he is optimistic about the future of his business.

Others are more concerned about the Coop's renovation project.

Many say they lament the commercialization of the area, as well as the danger the new Coop poses for Harvard Square's small booksellers.

"I', sick of Harvard Square becoming a mall," said one customer in Buck-A-Book who declined to give her name.

Dan Moore, owner of McIntyre and Moore Booksellers, said he feels the Coop expansion is "a backdoor way" for Barnes and Noble to get into the Square.

"The whole thing is pretty worrisome," he said.

Others believe small booksellers' presence in Harvard Square is a statement against superstores.

"Barnes and Noble-type bookstores are very shallow," said Louisa Solano, owner of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop. "We're here to show that thought and imagination can endure."

--Julia M. Gardner, Nicholas A. Loss-Eaton and Leena L. Shankar contributed to the reporting of this story.The CrimsonSusan E. Bridenstine

According to Murphy, this multimillion dollar project will be the largest scale renovation since the Cooperative moved into its current location on Mass. Ave. in the 1920s.

Murphy said the Coop has been planning a change of direction for years.

After several years of "self-assessment and strategic planning," the Cooperative Society decided to change its format from a "department store model" to an "academic bookstore that happens to sell other things," Murphy said.

Coop officials said the enterprise needed to alter its focus to remain viable.

"It is unrealistic for the Coop not to change with the rest of the world," Powell said. "This is about survival."

Powell said surveys and research indicated that "students wanted a store for the academic community."

To meet that need, the Coop hired Barnes and Noble in 1995 to serve as a "manager of operations" and to oversee the day-to-day running of the business.

"We couldn't have done this alone," Powell said. "We needed a partner."

Murphy emphasized that although Barnes and Noble will play a large role in the management of the remodeled stores, the Coop name, inventory and cooperative nature of the society will remain.

In addition, Coop officials are taking steps to maintain the "Harvard feel" of the historic Cooperative.

"We want to maintain architectural character of the Great Room," Powell said.

"The pillars will remain and the coloration will not be Barnes and Noble greens, it will be Harvard reds."

Flanagan said Hirsch Contractors, also in charge of the recent renovations to the Coops at Kendall Square and at Longwood Medical Center, plans to establish much of the grandeur and structural detail characteristic of a restored historic building.

Additions to the great Hall will include a catwalk to add more room for bookshelves, as well as a grand staircase toward the back of the store.

Although there are several additions and alterations planned for the project, the Coop will be losing approximately twenty-percent of its selling space, Murphy said.

The building that housed the store's stationery department for decades will no longer be a part of the Cooperative after this year.

When BankBoston, owner of the Stationery Building, failed to renew the Coop's lease for an extended period of time, the Coop decided to use their option to leave the building in 1998, Powell said.

The Coop has factored this loss of space into their merchandising strategy and has slightly reduced the depth of their product line.

Murphy said the Coop will reduce the stock of certain items rather than eliminating breadth.

This type of restructuring is designed to bring profits back to the Coop.

Community leaders see the renovation as a positive move for the Square.

Executive Director of Harvard Square Business Association Kristin T. Sudholz said she is satisfied with the Coop's plans to "maintain the essence and the architectural detail" of the Great Hall.

Sudholz said that area bookstores will not really be affected by the Coop's changes.

"Most bookstores have carved our a niche of their own," Sudholz said. "And stores like Wordsworth have shown their resilience through efforts like the Curious George annex."

Many store representatives concur. "I can't imagine that it will make a difference. It hasn't affected us this far," said Kate Damon, assistant manager of the Globe Corner Bookstore.

"If anything, we are getting more business because of the mess over there," Damon said.

Tyler Stewart, owner of Pandemonium, a science-fiction and fantasy bookstore in the Square, said his shop targets a specialized readership that the Coop Book Store would not affect.

Although Stewart noted that "there's been an ongoing conflict between smaller stores and superstores," he said that, overall, he is optimistic about the future of his business.

Others are more concerned about the Coop's renovation project.

Many say they lament the commercialization of the area, as well as the danger the new Coop poses for Harvard Square's small booksellers.

"I', sick of Harvard Square becoming a mall," said one customer in Buck-A-Book who declined to give her name.

Dan Moore, owner of McIntyre and Moore Booksellers, said he feels the Coop expansion is "a backdoor way" for Barnes and Noble to get into the Square.

"The whole thing is pretty worrisome," he said.

Others believe small booksellers' presence in Harvard Square is a statement against superstores.

"Barnes and Noble-type bookstores are very shallow," said Louisa Solano, owner of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop. "We're here to show that thought and imagination can endure."

--Julia M. Gardner, Nicholas A. Loss-Eaton and Leena L. Shankar contributed to the reporting of this story.The CrimsonSusan E. Bridenstine

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