Hospitality shop faces potential relocation

Daphne Nwobike
Staff writer

Sewanee may soon lose the Hospitality Shop (Hop Shop), or the secondhand store will be relocated, as the administration faces strategic planning questions. Lacking volunteers and building maintenance has led the University administration to rethink the store’s future on University Avenue. Questions remain about whether the Hop Shop will disintegrate with new campus planning initiatives. 

The Hospitality Shop’s lease with the university ended a few months ago. Julia Bates, Board Chair of the Hospitality Shop, shared that their “lease was up with the university, and there was a big debate about who would take care of what as far as maintaining the building was concerned. It was not clearly spelled out in the lease.” In contrast, Doug Williams, Vice President of Finance, said “Beginning in 2000, the University provided the Hospitality Shop with the university-owned house rent-free. In exchange for paying no rent, the Hospitality Shop agreed to take care of all repairs and maintenance associated with the house.” 

Photo by Beylie Ivanhoe (C’24)

The shop has a quaint charm, characterized by a litany of knick-knacks and other vintage items. It has sections dedicated to items such as women’s clothing, children’s clothing, men’s clothing, electronics, furniture, and more. Alluring paintings line the walls, vying for the attention of potential customers. The Hop Shop has a unique charm that keeps people coming back. From board games and antiques to paperbacks and business attire, the Hospitality Shop has it all.

Located on University Avenue, the Hospitality Shop has been a long-standing part of Sewanee’s history. It began as a sandwich shop in the basement of an old university building before moving to its current location years ago. Bates emphasized that it was “a way for women to contribute to their community and form a culture of their own.” This organization played a significant role in helping women find their space in Sewanee’s previously male-dominated society. 

The Hospitality Shop runs on the contribution of volunteers who help sort, organize, and categorize the vast item donations that arrive daily. Most volunteers are older adults who cannot withstand heavy lifting for long periods. By partnering with the Bonner/Canale Leadership Program, the Hop Shop has gotten many more volunteers to assist with these essential activities. A. Vickrey, a Bonner leader who serves as the site leader for the Hospitality Shop, has also come up with an idea for increasing volunteer presence at the store; they stated that very soon, “using a point system, the fraternity or sorority that volunteers the most will end up getting some prizes at the end of the year.” Although the issue of volunteers is getting resolved, a more significant problem persists—the building lease.

The Hospitality Shop has remained in its building on University Avenue for 50 years. Years have ravaged the building, causing wear and tear that require many repairs. Maintaining the building may not seem like a significant issue, but it needs extensive time and money. Bates revealed that “six years ago, we put a new roof on this place for 22,000 dollars. Now it looks like the University needs 100,000 dollars to make this place workable, so the university offered to provide a loan of 100,000 dollars with a 4 percent interest.’” The Hospitality Shop is in a tight spot because it cannot finance the building repairs on its own, and the interest offered by the university is more than the shop can afford. With this issue threatening to close down the shop, moving downtown seemed like a viable option.

In June, Bates and other Hospitality Shop board members hosted a gathering to receive input from community members on how to keep their shop up and running. Amidst responses urging the Hop Shop not to leave Sewanee emerged the possibility of the shop moving downtown. Bates said, “The Sewanee Business Alliance would like [the shop] to be closer to downtown, so our vision is to get somewhere closer to downtown, all on one floor.” 

Susan Holmes, who works with University Realty, pointed out that only one or two buildings are available downtown, and there’s possibly only one small site of land that the Hospitality Shop could build upon. When addressing the plausibility of the Shop moving downtown, Mrs. Holmes mentioned that “there is very little available…and to build a commercial building in the downtown area is pretty prohibitively expensive. It is difficult to get a loan on leasehold property for commercial purposes, so building something that stays on the domain is pretty expensive.” The Shop would have to go through the financial battle of getting a loan, raising donations, and much more to secure a location downtown. 

The Hospitality Shop has been a staple on-campus. It provides clothing, scholarships, donations, and many other resources for university students and community members, but the Shop is currently contemplating how to move forward. Williams stated that the university is “agreeing to continue the current rental agreement and to loan the Hospitality Shop funds for repairs,” but it does seem that these proposed resolutions will be enough in the long-term. Despite these challenges, Bates remains hopeful, stating, “We will find out if there’s any land or space available downtown. By the time we know the cost of the land and the cost of the building, then we will start a capital campaign to begin obtaining funding.” She emphasized that the current location has dilapidated to the point that they have started plans for a new building fund. 

“We want to be out of here in three years—that’s our goal,” adds Bates.