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— The parents might well be concerned. There have been three drinking-related student deaths on or near campus in the past three years. And a well-publicized drug bust in several fraternities last spring caused the university a public relations nightmare. None of these problems originated in Louie’s.

Holton thinks the university wants to bring more profitable corporate businesses onto campus. He says that during a discussion of his bar’s closure, a university administrator pointed out that Holton’s income was down 8 percent from the previous year. “Not a single thing the university asked me to do has yet to put me out of business,” says Holton. “But the accumulation of things they’ve done to the business over the years has started to take a toll. They’ve shortened my daily hours, they’ve reduced the number of days I can open, I can’t open for basketball or football games. Aztec Shops themselves sell beer and wine at campus events like concerts. Ten years ago, that was sold in here. I used to be able to open Saturdays and Sundays, especially if there were sporting events on those days. Last basketball season they changed that in midstream. The policy on the pub, though I’m across campus from Cox Arena, seems to piggyback on the [California State University] chancellor’s ruling last year that there should be no more alcohol at athletic events.

“When I was told I couldn’t come back after next May, they told me I did not make enough money or have enough experience to operate the type of pub and grill they plan to put in the new center. They even said that if I went off campus and started a pub-and-grill business to show them I can be successful for two years that I would have a chance just like everybody else in the world to put in a bid for the next pub.”

Russ Brew, who together with his wife ran several coffeehouse/juice bars at SDSU starting in 1990, had a similar experience. Four years ago, Aztec Shops refused to renew his contract and brought in two Starbucks outlets instead. The move had been preceded by a demand that Brew return a higher percentage of his profits to Aztec Shops. One of his locations was closed, and several coffee carts were brought in to operate in close proximity to his remaining stores, “cannibalizing profits,” says Brew.

Brew tells me by phone that he enjoyed good relations with most Aztec Shops employees, including Jack Dement, the company’s general manager at the time. But one day, Dement sent him “an absolutely brutal letter.” It said Brew was not doing a good job and complained that his sales were dropping. The letter felt like a personal attack, says Brew, because he and his wife produced everything they sold at the store, oftentimes getting up to make sandwiches at three in the morning. He thinks Aztec Shops wanted to “go corporate.” He was able to work out a one-year extension, but Starbucks was on campus the minute the year was up.

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Comments

Visduh Dec. 17, 2008 @ 1:30 p.m.

Aztec Center is going to be razed? Why? That building opened in 1969, and SDSU claimed it was the first such student union building of its kind ever built on a Cal State campus. One of the few graceful buildings on that dreary campus, it had become the signature building for the university. If Aztec Center is now inadequate--the probable reason for tearing it down--could it not get some expansion or annex?

I think Holton is exactly right. SDSU wants to turn the operation into a big revenue source, and going corporate is the way to do that. Take a look at Price Center at UCSD and see the commercialism crowd out comfort. But the current view of drinking is that it is vaguely shameful, and the public--including parents of potential students--must be shielded. (If only they knew!) So, hide it away, make it expensive so that the concessionaire can pay a big share of the take, and everyone is happy. Except maybe for the customers, the students, for whose benefit it all exists.

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EBasil Dec. 18, 2008 @ 10:02 a.m.

I think "Visduh" was right to suggest one consider UCSD: although the longstanding location of "The Pub" that existed in the center of campus for many years has reopened with a tiny venue constricted to a small portion of the otherwise unused building, the campus administration shut the Pub down hard, in order to make "room" in the new "University Center" for Round Table Pizza and a much more constricted, sanitized experience for students---but that generates far more money for the university.

It doesn't take an SDSU Business School grad to figure out that the current Aztec pub is being squeezed out with bureaucratese in order to pave the way for a large, chain-based corporate operator. That's the way it works and it's how "University Center Administrators" are trained to do things.

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Fred Williams Dec. 19, 2008 @ 8:23 a.m.

Louie, when you took over the place from Brian (back when it was still called Monty's) you knew the reason he left was the endless crap he had to endure to run his business. You've had nothing but trouble from these jerk-wads from the beginning.

Really, Louie, you should take your talents and experience somewhere you'll be appreciated and treated like a businessman who contributes to the community. As long as the child-minder mentality prevails at our universities you'll always be under their thumb, tolerated at best, but never welcome or appreciated.

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Writeon Dec. 22, 2008 @ 6:55 p.m.

Aztec Shops / SDSU pimps out to the highest bidder. That was what happened to the old on-campus Allegro coffee shop a few years back. Hence, the campus community suddenly had "the joy" of choosing between three Starbucks on and around SDSU. Most of the students attending SDSU are suburbanites and they have been surrounded by the splendors of corporate strip malls and their homogenized offerings ever since birth. Many students also have limited transportation offerings so they are sort of cornered by the corporate options. Squeezing Louie's into a bidding process or just pushing them out, plays right into the plans of greedy, homogenized, corporate vultures. Louie's probably does scare some parents especially after the "drug sting" of last spring. Note to students: there are so many non-corporate options in San Diego and some stores, restaurants, etc., offer better quality and prices. Venture out and you will discover! One would think that your college of choice would cut you a break when it came to prices but not the good ol'Aztec Shops.

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