Arts

Café Alternatif was once a popular study spot for arts students, but it’s been closed since March. Photo: Angjelos Fero/The Fulcrum

Delayed opening largely due to rocky transition from SFUO to UOSU, union executive says

Do you miss Café Alt? Of course you do. But you’ll have to wait until the next school year for that cup of coffee and prime study spot on campus.

When the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) shut down last year, the four businesses it operated closed too — Pivik, Café Alternatif, 1848 student bar, and Agora Bookstore.

The University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU), which took over from the SFUO, plans to reopen Café Alt and Pivik in September 2020. The initially planned reopening for this January has proven “impossible,” said Sam Schroeder, the advocacy commissioner for the UOSU, largely due to issues with the transition from one student union to the next.  

The first step to opening the businesses is to hire an executive director and then a business director, who will be in charge of operating all UOSU businesses.

The delay has its roots in summer 2019, when the UOSU took the reigns from the school’s former undergraduate student union.

“There were a lot of issues with the transition that made things difficult,” said Schroeder. “There was a degree of uncertainty when it came to the space. We didn’t get into our spaces until August, so it’s very difficult to bring in a lot of high-end management staff that we would need to open businesses when we don’t have the space to put them in.”

The UOSU focused on opening services first and have now turned their attention to the SFUO’s former businesses.

Schroeder noted that Pivik is the one business he gets asked about the most. Pivik was also the only SFUO business that was consistently profitable, meaning it not only provided students with a place to buy groceries, but it also put money back into student services.

“It brought tremendous benefit to the students by having a store on campus, and it brought benefits to the union, which brings more benefits to students, by actually being profitable,” Schroeder said.

Café Alt, Schroeder said, was a “hub” for arts students. The Student Association of the Faculty of Arts (SAFA) was based in Café Alt, and the café was a popular study spot, especially for humanities majors.

“When they shut (Café Alt) down in March, I thought they were going to put on a funeral for it,” said Schroeder, who sat on the SAFA exec.

While there are concrete plans in place for Pivik and Café Alt, the future of Agora and 1848 is less hopeful. The UOSU is in talks with the administration to figure out a use for the 1848 space, while Agora Bookstore will not be coming back.

To stay afloat, Agora required a $20 levy from U of O students, and most of Pivik’s profits were also going into Agora. By ending the funding to Agora, Schroeder said the UOSU increased the amount of money going to Student Academic Success Services (SASS) by $10 per student, allowing them to hire more counsellors.

When it comes to 1848, Schroeder noted that campus bars often struggle to turn a profit and the university is looking at other uses for the space.

Schroeder expressed appreciation at how students have dealt with the lengthy — and often difficult — transition in student unions and the uncertainty caused by the Student Choice Initiative. Opening Pivik and Café Alt, he said, remain top concerns for the new union.

“The whole transition has been something students have had to show patience on, so I appreciate that,” said Schroeder.