For students, the new OneCard system has meant new IDs and more trips to the Ville for the pleasures of off-campus dining. But there’s another side to the story: merchants in the Ville have been affected by the new system just as students have. Business owners are excited about future possibilities of using the OneCard. Most of these restaurateurs say that the transition to the new system was smooth and that business has picked up, though they mentioned a few problems.
Ville merchants were informed of the OneCard system around the same time as students, in early February of this year. They met with Greg Brown, Vice-President of Finance at the college, along with other college administrators and with officials from the Swarthmore Borough Council to hammer out the details.
One such detail regarded payment methods. The college provided vendors with iPads to make processing OneCard payments easier. After a certain amount of sales, the college will charge the merchants a processing fee, similar to what credit card companies charge businesses. According to Scott Richardson, owner of Occasionally Yours, the idea of the OneCard System has been talked about for a long time, but technology like the iPad was unavailable or lacking.
“I’ve been here for 23 years, and for the last 20 [years] students have wanted this system. Just the technology wasn’t there before,” said Richardson. He added that not only had business increased for Occasionally Yours, but also a new liveliness had come to the Ville.
“We’ve gone from four to 10 students a day to 10 to 20. It’s so cool to see on a Saturday night how many people are walking around.”
While Richardson thought the reason for his increase in business was that students were more willing to spend money from the meal plan than from their own pockets, he was a little concerned that students did not know they could tip the system.
Tyron, a waiter at Aria Mediterranean Cuisine, expressed similar concerns about gratuities.
“They need a proper tipping system. I feel awkward asking. If students do tip, I have to put it in the register manually as a separate transaction,” he explained.
Tyron added that business has improved a little since the OneCard was introduced, and that the new system was faster than credit cards and cash and helped with long lines.
Pete Canakis, a long-time employee of Renato’s Pizza, said the effect on business had been moderate. He said the college administration had been very accommodating.
“They made everything smooth. Everyone was nice and helpful.”
Canakis added that the OneCard had brought more foot traffic to the pizzeria, which led to more face-to-face interactions with students.
“I get to see a lot of kids I wouldn’t see before. We get a better relationship with the students,” he shared.
Chris, a barista at Hobbs coffee shop, said that the OneCard system had not only meant that more students were hanging out in the coffee shop in the middle of the day, sipping coffee, and typing on their laptops, but that more first year students in particular were coming to the cafe.
“Normally it would take freshman a few weeks to venture off campus and try us out, but this year we had a lot of freshman right off the bat.”
For some businesses in the Ville, the transition to the Onecard presented both a challenge and new possibilities. Vicky’s Place, arguably Swarthmore’s only diner, was an all-cash business before joining the OneCard system this year. Business has increased since the start of the school year, though Vicky’s’ business model may mean that the OneCard could pose difficulties in the future.
“If business dies down it might not be worth it, but if business stays the same it will definitely be worth it,” said Paul Feldmayer, owner of Vicky’s.
Manmeet, store manager of the Dunkin Donuts branch in the Ville, said the store had gained some business, but wanted the transaction history system to be updated. While she can see all her regular transactions instantly after they are processed by the cash register, it takes OneCard transactions a full 24 hours before they are viewable.
Kira, front-store manager of the Co-op, said the OneCard system was a huge opportunity for the community-owned grocery store.
“We always felt like that students did not utilize the fact that they have a grocery store just a few minutes from campus,” she said. Kira added that the Co-op had 30 more students making purchases a day, compared to the same time last year.
Kira also said that the Onecard system would allow the Co-op to track and keep better stock of the types of things students need.
“One card allows us to isolate what students are purchasing and their different spending patterns. We’re thinking of things we could do with that.”
With the Inn, the new bookstore, new PPR, and the OneCard system allowing students to use their meal plan in the Ville, the center of campus will likely be pushed south in coming years.
Students are still growing accustomed to the OneCard system, and their spending patterns are not set in stone. Other potential problems, like overcrowding at Ville restaurants or lower profitability to Ville merchants due to decreasing amounts of cash transactions, are still concerns for college and community members. The future ways merchants will adapt to the OneCard system and increased student traffic remains to be seen, and Swarthmore’s culinary future hangs in the balance.