It wasn’t a change Alicia Willmott, a Connections employee, saw coming.
Willmott, who is also a third-year business administration and accounting student, started working at the Tea Shoppe in 2013, a few months after it opened with the remodelling of Connections. She was given the news that the Tea Shoppe would close in the summer of 2016 and had a little over a month’s notice to switch jobs within the campus store.
Space is at a premium right now in the college due to the construction going on in the C building, said Shawn Davies, who is the general manager of college’s retail services.
The Tea Shoppe occupied a large footprint within the campus store, but it didn’t make a significant enough contribution to its bottom line. To illustrate, while Connections had revenues of $14 million last year and earned $1,092,643 for the college, the Tea Shoppe’s portion of those revenues was $100,000 with profits of $29,878.
Now the Tea Shoppe’s service and lounge areas have been replaced by the Print Shop. They’ve also added more top selling items to the store, such as the college’s popular spirit clothing line and are expanding their student and staff work materials. The hope is that these changes will increase Connections’ yearly profits.
“I think it’s a bad change to be honest,” said Willmott. The welcoming atmosphere of the Tea Shoppe, she said, made students more inclined to shop at Connections after the initial rush to purchase books and school supplies at the beginning of each semester.
Connections now has more of a “Staples Business Depot” feel to it, said Brent Brownlee, who is director of college ancillary services. He also believes the space caters better to the college, students and business as a whole. “Driving traffic and meeting the needs of the students is what we want to be doing from the Connections store,” he said.
Of all of the other available resources to college has for students in the area—Starbucks, Tim Hortons, and the many cafeterias where students can get beverages and food—compared to the Tea Shoppe’s low traffic, it only made sense to close it down, Brownlee said.
One thing that Brownlee, Davies and Willmott could agree on was that the Tea Shoppe had a unique brand, and created a warm feeling at the entrance of the store.
Nowhere else on campus could you enjoy loose-leaf tea, said Willmott. Students were also able to enjoy locally made pastries and baked goods from graduated students who were working at local companies in Ottawa, which was a selling point. Savoir Faire, the take-away food shop next door to Connections, only sells products from students currently attending the college.
Cheryl Jensen, the College’s president, said that she also loved the Tea Shoppe but agreed to the change. “If you’re not making money, try something different,” said Jensen.
A few weeks before the store closed, a petition went around from an unknown student, and asked students to support keeping the Tea Shoppe running, said Willmott.
Davies confirmed he had heard about a petition being signed, but said he never received the signatures.
Willmott now works on the phones and oversees the Connections store. She said that she is getting use to her new job, but misses her old gig and wishes she still served the regular customers that came in for tea.