continued 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.