On February 14, Wesleyan University announced that an agreement had been reached for the purchase of the Atticus Bookstore in Middletown, Connecticut. The store, which will close on April 30, will undergo renovation and expansion to reopen by fall 2003 as the Wesleyan University Bookstore. Charles Negaro, Atticus' owner for over 25 years, is selling the Middletown business and building to the university but will maintain ownership of two other well-established Atticus Bookstores, in New Haven, Connecticut, and Amherst, Massachusetts. Both the New Haven and Middletown stores include popular cafés. (For a recent BTW profile of the three Atticus Bookstores, click here.)
Atticus Bookstore, Middletown, Connecticut
Atticus Bookstore and Café in Middletown has served as the official bookstore for Wesleyan University as well as a significant community enterprise. Conveniently located a block from Main Street and the Wesleyan campus, the 8,000-square-foot store has featured university insignia items and textbooks but has also developed close relationships with Middletown's public school system and antipoverty and literacy programs.
According to a Wesleyan University press release dated February 14, 2003, "The University plans on renovating and expanding the bookstore this summer in an effort to provide a broader range of products and services to the university community, and to expand services and products available to the larger Middletown community. A task force will be established on campus with representation from the faculty, the student body, and the administration to begin identifying priorities for the new bookstore operation. A temporary store location will be developed during renovations."
In an e-mail interview with BTW, Marcia Bromberg, Wesleyan's vice president of finance and administration, stressed that, despite any accounts to the contrary, "no official at Wesleyan has said that the university was planning to sever ties with Atticus because of disputes over service and the display of Wesleyan merchandise. As a 10-year memorandum of understanding between TPA Books, Inc. [dba Atticus] and Wesleyan came to a close, we had begun a discussion about Wesleyan's needs and expectations for a university bookstore and whether or not TPA Books, Inc. would choose to continue in its current role. Among the expectations we outlined was more prominence given to the display of Wesleyan logo goods. After considerable discussion, Wesleyan reached an agreement with Charles Negaro to buy both the Atticus business and the store it is located in. The store will be located in the current Atticus building."
Negaro, who developed a passion for baking in the 1980s and owns Chabaso Bakery, which supplies the baked goods to the two store cafés, has long been away from the three bookstores' day-to-day activities. Still, he told BTW, "The [Middletown] store has been the foundation of my family's livelihood over the years and is immensely important to me, as are all of the employees. The new store will open in a changed format, the café will be different, probably smaller." Understandably, he has mixed feelings about the sale and the transformation of the Middletown location but is sanguine about his negotiations with the university. "They treated me fairly. They're not unhappy, I'm not unhappy. [Reports by the media of friction] don't represent the characterization of what really went on. This was a business decision for both of us. They wanted to be in control of the property so they had to buy me out," he said.
Bromberg addressed the question of future management of the store in her comments to BTW: "With TPA Books, Inc. no longer running the Wesleyan bookstore, we are looking for a new contractor to run the business. We expect to contract with one of the national college bookstore operators because of the experience and economies of scale they will bring to the table."
According to both parties, the bookstore staff, excluding temporary student workers, has been given assurances for future employment with the university.
"We expect the staff to be retained by the new contractor," Bromberg said. "They know Wesleyan and have relationships with faculty, staff, and Middletown residents. There will be a café, but we expect it to be somewhat smaller than the current Atticus Café. We also plan to honor the memory of Atticus and its long relationship with the University and the Middletown community with a plaque or similar memorial in the new store." --Nomi Schwartz