Following J&R Computer World's exit from Philosophy Hall late last year, students have had to look beyond the Columbia campus for their electronic needs.
After the fall back-to-school period, J&R, the only computer store in the immediate Columbia area, disappeared, leaving only a note announcing its departure on the door.
The store, which contracted its lease directly with Academic Information Systems, had been on campus for about five years when it informed AcIS last year of its decision to close. Columbia then convinced J&R to stay open for students returning to campus in September, and the store did not close until later in the fall.
"[J&R] said the Columbia store was not profitable and that they could not continue to support it after the stock market declines and the aftermath of 9/11 affected their overall business. Financial firms downtown are one of their major markets," Walter Bourne, assistant director of AcIS, said.
However, slow business at Columbia was not the franchise's only problem. J&R headquarters, located less than a quarter mile from the wreckage of the World Trade Center, lost millions of dollars of electronic equipment in the disaster. The company is currently staving off further losses from the lagging economy of downtown Manhattan.
Despite suggestions of economic difficulties, J&R refused to discuss its motivation for the departure.
"We entered into a relationship, and we withdrew," said Abe Brown, director of advertising and public relations at J&R. "It didn't work out. I can't really say why--we had our minds and hearts in the right place."
Although the store is no longer in business, J&R still maintains a relationship with Columbia, providing students and employees with a discount at its store located near City Hall. Visitors to Philosophy Hall can still follow signs directing them toward the store, but will only find a sign at the Help Desk stating, "J&R left. We don't know why."
Many students did not even realize that J&R had closed. AcIS continues to provide a link to the J&R web site.
"We did not make any particular effort to notify the Columbia community," Bourne said. "We had a message on J&R's door 2 or 3 weeks prior to the closing."
After closing, J&R transferred its Columbia employees to the downtown store, upholding its reputation for not laying off a single worker in its thirty years of business.
Many students miss the store. "Considering its location, Columbia can't do much with the space," Henry Lau, SEAS '05, said. "But I don't know of any other electronic stores nearby. There's definitely demand for their products."
However, other students newer to Columbia were not even aware of J&R's existence. "Could you even see it from outside? I bought my Ethernet cable at the bookstore," Ian Bateson, CC '06, said.
AcIS hopes to attract another electronics company to the site by the late spring or summer.
"We have begun discussions with a technology vendor that has a long history in serving education," Bourne said. "Given the online store competition, we have to convince someone they can make money here. But with the high cost of tuition, one would think people would want to do business here."
However, the withdrawal of J&R follows a recent trend of neighborhood stores closing, such as Sedutto, TeaLuxe, and Lord of the Fleas. "Maybe that's because we're poor college students," Lisa Nicholson, BC '04, said.