Outside of Cafe Alt
Photo: Bridget Coady/Fulcrum
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Transition of power coupled with pandemic sees space shut down for foreseeable future

After the dissolution of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) in March of 2019, many student-union run businesses on campus shut their doors. Now add in a global pandemic and some won’t be reopening for the foreseeable future. 

One of the affected spaces at the University of Ottawa is Café Alternatif (otherwise known as Café Alt), which served as a popular study space and coffee shop for students on campus. The business was located in the basement of Simard Hall at 60 University Private.

According to a recent statement from Babacar Faye, the current president of the UOSU, the student union has now decided that “Café Alt will not be opening this year.”

When the UOSU took over for the SFUO after the student union referendum, the new student union was handed the responsibility of operating all student-union run businesses including PIVIK and Pub 1848 alongside Café Alt. 

However, UOSU struggled to reopen the business after the initial transfer of power and instead prioritized getting student services up to speed again. The reopening of the cafes, bars, and stores on campus was initially planned for January 2020 but eventually pushed to September. 

In addition to the changing of the guard, the COVID-19 pandemic had a strong impact on businesses on campus resulting in student services continuing to be more of a priority for UOSU.

In a previous interview with the Fulcrum, Faye “referenced a lack of manpower and operational capacity which resulted in an incremental process of rebuilding and the UOSU prioritizing reopening services that were more important to the needs of students.” 

Still, many students hoped Café Alt would be open sometime during the 2020-21 academic year, crossing their fingers it would only be closed temporarily until the UOSU figured out how to manage the space amidst all the drastic changes.

Over the years, Café Alt was a comforting space for students of all majors, particularly those in the arts or humanities, and often hosted student talent shows, small concerts, and other events. It was known to fluctuate in terms of revenue sometimes “rolling in the dough” like in 2012 but also could experience “weak numbers” as they did a few years later, at one point even losing $44,501.

Finances aside, the space was a beloved space for all U of O students on campus to go to, whether an arts major or not. 

Julia Kemzang, a fourth-year health sciences student, said it was a “really nice and quiet study space for students to work in” and that she would be sad to see Café Alt close forever. 

Fourth-year biomedical engineering student, Aya Amer said it was “very lively” and she enjoyed the socialization at Café Alt.

Former UOSU advocacy commissioner Sam Schroeder felt the same way. Back in January he was quoted saying Café Alt “was a ‘hub’ for arts students” and “was a popular study spot, especially for humanities majors.”

Regarding the remaining student-union businesses, the UOSU has plans to open PIVIK in January 2021. Faye did not specify if there are any plans to reopen Café Alt in the 2021-22 academic year.