By Page Forrest
Photos courtesy of Feasting on the Mountains and sewanee.edu
Ever since the demise of the Globe, students have bemoaned the lack of affordable options outside of McClurg and and the Pub. “Shenanigans’ reopening was great, but did not provide any healthier alternatives. The Globe, Crust, and now Julia’s have all closed, and we have almost no choices for food,” says Olivia O’Brien (C’16.)
This semester, Rich Berlin, the director of Business Services, and Frank Gladu, the vice president for Administrative Services, designed Domain Dollars, a system similar to Pub Bucks, but for use in downtown Sewanee. The primary inspiration stemmed from a desire to revitalize local restaurants in the area, specifically Blue Chair Cafe and Tavern, Shenanigans, and Crossroads.
Berlin explains, “What our plan was with this pilot was to test the system, to see if we could make it work. We work with a company called CBORD that runs ID card systems for colleges all around the country. We bought the system as if we were going to do a full implementation. We wanted to test it with the merchants, see if the merchants like it. One of the big issues with the set up is that our ID cards don’t have a card strip on it, so you can’t just swipe. That’s where the five digits on the back of the card come in – that’s what they punch in at the restaurant.” So far the program has only had one issue: a student was chosen for the Domain Dollars program, but lost his ID card. He got a new one, and they changed the five-digit number in the system, but then he found the old card and tried to continue using it. It didn’t work for Domain Dollars because the number had been changed, but the issue was eventually resolved.
Overall, 150 students were randomly chosen to receive $50 dollars, a $7500 investment by the school. So far, according to student response, the program has been a success. Amanda Watters (C’18) says, “I really hope they keep doing the program because it has been super nice to go out and eat at other places than the Pub and McClurg, especially when you get back from a late practice and you can’t get to McClurg before it closes. I just think it’s a great alternative to what we have right now. I hope the pilot program grows into something every student on campus can enjoy and benefit from.”
Emily Riedlinger (C’18) did note that while she enjoyed the program, sometimes it seemed as though some of the servers had not been briefed on how the program worked.
Erin Neil (C’16), however, may be disappointed next semester. She says, “I think it’s been a really unique way to incorporate Downtown Sewanee into meal times. Before, I would either eat at Stirlings due to convenience or Pub and McClurg since I could use Tiger Bucks and eat for free. Now, I go eat Downtown because it’s more affordable and the workers at these restaurants seem to be excited about the Domain Dollars.”
According to Berlin, the program will not remain free as it moves forward. The plan is to set up a system where students can pay into accounts that will allow them to spend that money specifically on downtown Sewanee. Berlin believes that parents will be more likely to support a program that allows students to purchase food, but not alcohol. Currently, students in the Domain Dollars pilot are not allowed to purchase alcohol with Domain Dollars at any of the involved establishments.
When the program initially launched, many students wondered why Stirling’s was not included. Berlin says “I think Stirling’s is so busy already that we weren’t really thinking about it. The main point of the concept was to invigorate businesses downtown.” However, he did note that Stirling’s may be included in the future.
Overall, Domain Dollars has been a rousing success. Moving forward, however, it remains to be seen whether students will react as enthusiastically when expected to put their own money into the program.