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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Financial troubles cause Sweet Lou’s Waffle Bar to shut down; River City Books to close later this year

<wntown Northfield is losing two Carleton student attractions – one already closed, the other intending to close in the near future. Sweet Lou’s Waffle Bar and Café, a popular Carl hangout, shut its doors the first of the year, while River City Books, a branch of the Carleton Bookstore, will go out of business in March or April.

Both Division Street businesses cite financial reasons as the main proponents in their closings. “Like any business closing, we were losing money,” Louis Newman, John M. and Elizabeth W. Musser ,Professor of Religious Studies and owner and namesake of Sweet Lou’s, said. “We had been open for a year with a brief interruption in January, and we reached the place where we weren’t able to keep going financially.”

Sweet Lou’s waffle-seeking patrons arrived to a dark building with a sign on the door Jan. 1, as the business did not announce its decision until after it had closed. Two days later, fans on the Facebook website were notified that the store’s “level of business has dropped off dramatically over the last few months” and invited to attend a going-out-of-business sale, which took place Jan. 8-9.

Dan Bergeson, Director of Auxiliary Services and Special Programs for Carleton, also noted the financial difficulties River City Books has faced since its opening in the spring of 2002, when the Carleton Bookstore branch was created to relieve customers of the sometimes “intimidating” nature of college campuses. “Even though it’s well loved by the community and used frequently, it’s never achieved the financial goals we expected,” Bergeson said. “With the economy, it’s unlikely we’re going to reach those financial goals. It’s likely it would’ve happened anyway… but certainly the crisis didn’t help.”

River City Books has been subsidized by Carleton since its opening. With a two-year extension on the original five-year lease ending in September, closing the store seemed an appropriate way to cut back on spending.

Newman speculates the state of the economy also affected Sweet Lou’s. People are looking for ways to spend less money, and “one of the things you can do quickly is not go out to eat,” he said.

While this is true, if the business had not made money-consuming mistakes early on, according to Newman, “maybe we would have eventually begun to turn a profit.”

Originally, Sweet Lou’s general manager Jeff Bohler had planned to buy the restaurant from Newman and reopen it in February, but the necessary financing was not secured. The building will likely be sold to a new occupant and developed into a different restaurant or business. “I would be delighted if there was still a place like Sweet Lou’s,” Newman said. “I very much appreciate all the students and others who were loyal customers and their enthusiasm about the idea.”

As to the future of River City Books, the business decided to close before its lease officially ends in order to ensure that the building’s owner will have ample time to find a new tenant. The Carleton Bookstore plans to expand its general reading selection, which was consolidated when River City Books opened, to accommodate community members who’ll be affected by the store’s closing. “Since we announced [the closing], we’ve gotten feedback from customers, but nobody’s critical,” Bergeson said. “They understand it’s a business decision.”

The fate of downtown Northfield has been under suspicion over the past year or so, with property tax levels sometimes reaching double digits and renters finding themselves unable keep up. Two housing developments in the downtown area are also having trouble attracting tenants, who, once downtown, would bring more revenue to the area’s businesses.
Despite the sometimes shaky financial situation, Bergeson sees the closing of both Sweet Lou’s and River City Books as a “bizarre” occurrence that should not have students or the rest of the community worrying about the state of the Division Street business district. “One thing casual observers don’t see is there is always turnover in places like downtown,” Bergeson said. “Having businesses close is not always a sign for the demise of the district.”

Instead, Bergeson hopes it can be seen as an opportunity for a new business to bring yet another attraction to downtown Northfield.

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