Norris Renovations Receive Praise On First Day Of Classes

Libby Nelson

By Libby NelsonThe Daily Northwestern

Eight and a half hours into its official opening day, the Norris University Center Starbucks had a crisis: the permanent marker used to label customers’ drinks had run out of ink.

“We haven’t had a break since 10 a.m.,” general manager Chris Gargiulo said, looking at the eight students waiting to order. “This is the shortest line we’ve had all day.”

The coffee shop’s opening, made official with a ribbon cutting at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, was the result of two years of planning in a project intended to make Norris more welcoming.

“We’ve never had a franchise concept like this before,” Gargiulo said, adding that he heard the opening of Sbarro in 2002 had drawn similar crowds.

Weinberg senior Hilary Hoffman said she usually goes into Evanston to get coffee but that she thinks the Starbucks will bring her to Norris more often.

“I’ll use my points up a lot faster,” she said. “It’s more convenient than going off campus.”

Norris Executive Director Rick Thomas said the idea to install a Starbucks came from a series of focus groups and surveys that began two years ago.

“We learned that people come quite frequently (to Norris) but don’t stay, and told us the reason was the environments aren’t comfortable and warm and inviting,” Thomas said.

Above all, he said, students seemed to want a coffee shop. And when the surveys and focus groups asked how students felt about brands, the response to Starbucks was the strongest and most positive.

“They told us that, more than any brand out there, Starbucks was the brand that they would like to see,” Thomas said.

The demand for a coffee shop intersected with a plan from the Undergraduate Budget Priorities Committee to improve the furniture in the first floor lounge. Though Thomas would not disclose the cost of the Starbucks project, he said it was partially funded by UBPC’s allocations.

“Students did like that space already,” Thomas said. “It just could be so much better with better furniture and more amenities. That also planted a seed.”

The Starbucks might draw from outside the Northwestern community, as well. Evanston resident Jimmy Roh said he would probably come to Norris sometimes rather than buying his coffee in town.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Roh said. “I think it will attract people, and it’s a good meeting place for students.”

Though about half of the new furniture hasn’t arrived and will be “filtering in” until the end of February, the space is officially named Couches.

Still coming are new chairs for the cafe tables, a new computer station at bar height with a counter and stools, and comfortable armchairs and couches.

Eventually, Thomas said he hopes Starbucks employees will be a mix of full-time Sodexho workers and part-time students with or without work-study aid.

“If today is any indication, we’ve been handing out almost as many applications for work as we’ve been serving lattes,” he said.

Crews will also be finishing detail work on the ceiling and around the fireplace for the rest of the month. Some parts of the work might require closing off portions of the lounge, but much of it should be completed at night, Thomas said.

Starbucks will remain open while the renovation is completed.

Reach Libby Nelson at [email protected]