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Four pizza joints and a late-night convenience store have added Harvard IDs to their list of acceptable credit cards.
Crimson Cash, a debit-based account that allows University affiliates to purchase Snickers bars or coursepacks with a simple swipe of a card, will now be accepted at five Harvard Square locations.
“It came up as a result of hearing from students that they’d like to use Crimson Cash to purchase from off-campus merchants,” Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) spokesperson Alexandra McNitt said. “It was student demand driven.”
The student demand—which has included lobbying by the Undergraduate Council for over a year—has resulted in Crimson Cash machines being installed at C’est Bon Convenience and four pizzerias: Pinocchio’s, Bertucci’s, Pizzeria Uno and Crazy Dough.
“This is very good for businesses and students,” said Undergraduate Council President Rohit Chopra ’04. “It will really show vendors the buying power of Harvard students in the local market. Hopefully, the vendors will see that they should cater to the undergraduates. I don’t think some of the local businesses see how dependent they are on Harvard students.”
Pushing for expansion of Crimson Cash into Harvard Square locations became a stock issue for some of the top tickets in last December’s council presidential and vice-presidential elections.
According to McNitt, HUDS painstakingly examined Square businesses for potential locations.
“We literally did a street-by-street canvass,” she said. “Every single pizza place and convenience store in the Harvard Square area had the opportunity to make Crimson Cash available at their location.”
McNitt said the Crimson cash program will “expand over time” to include more locations, meaning that notable absences like Tommy’s House of Pizza may one day join the list.
There is a small start-up investment for purchasing the Crimson Cash equipment, as well as some maintenance fees, which might deter some businesses worried about their profit margins. HUDS officials declined to specify the prices.
But managers of the businesses that are already on board said they don’t mind the costs associated with it.
Gretchen Huffsmith, the general manager of Bertucci’s, said purchases totaling $63 were made with Crimson Cash on Wednesday, the first day the Italian eatery accepted the card. She said the system is likely to help target the Harvard market, and may also be more convenient for students and store owners.
Greg Bonosoro, general manager of Uno’s, said he had previously asked Harvard how his establishment
could begin to accept the dollars stored on students’ identification cards.
“It’s really to offer students more opportunities than the dining halls,” he said. “It’s hard to say it’ll increase business, because most of these people probably eat here already.
“Students are carrying less cash,” he added. “It’s safer.”
Vasu Vadlamudi ’06, who anticipates frequent visits to Pinocchio’s next year, said he would spend Crimson Cash at the popular pizza establishment because of the convenience.
“If I have some Crimson Cash, it’d be a nice way to get rid of it,” he said.
“You get Crimson Cash for other things that you need,” Alex Potopov ’05 said. “It’s just convenient.”
But students who have grand visions of turning Crimson Cash into booze will be disappointed—alcohol is the one product that may not be purchased through the debit system, HUDS officials said.
Other colleges have implemented similar programs, with debit programs allowing for purchases from local businesses.
Bonosoro, the Uno’s manager, alluded to another benefit of the expansion—for students whose parents provide them with Crimson Cash to make laundry or late-night food cravings a little easier to handle.
“I wish that when I went to school, I could come to Uno’s and have my parents pay for it,” he said with a laugh.
The program didn’t get off to a smooth start at all locations, however.
Late last night, C’est Bon cashier Rene Naloda said the Crimson Cash machines experienced a few glitches.
“We used it for several transactions and now it’s not working,” he said. “I don’t know why.”
Jeffrey Cuppett, manager for card system application technology who worked on the expansion of Crimson Cash, said late last night from New York that the problem could have been caused by merchants buying the technology second-hand.
“We’ve run into some issues,” he said, noting that there is a technology support phone number accessible 24 hours a day.
“We’re improvising with the merchants.”
—Staff writer Alexander J. Blenkinsopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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