Businesses feel crunch of All Aboard

When UA students use their purchasing power with the All Aboard card and restrict their buying to the Student Union, businesses near campus feel the effects.

"One of the main issues affecting businesses is the All Aboard card," said Vinnie Spina, a partner in Mama's Famous Pizza and Heros, 831 N. Park Ave.

"Potentially every student can be an All Aboard card member," said Mike Low, University of Arizona Student Union interim director.

Low said about 20,000 students carry All Aboard funds on their identification cards and that $1.2 million was deposited at the beginning of this semester. He also said that number fluctuates during the year as students spend and deposit, and the Student Union makes approximately $10 million from All Aboard in a year.

Money is deposited into All Aboard, active since 1982, and students' identification cards will carry the funds which they can use to purchase meals in campus dining rooms and cafes.

Spina, whose three Mama's family restaurants have been active for 16 years in Tucson, said during the summer when students are gone, his business usually drops 10 to 15 percent. However, he said he has definitely felt "a bite" since the start of the 1994-95 school year.

"This is the first year I've felt an effect," he said.

Others said they have felt the subtle ripples in the student-generated economy.

"Business has been down lately because students can't use their All Aboard cards here," said Cindy Darego, owner of Mike's Place, 917 E. University Blvd. She said 50 percent of her business comes from students.

"What they (the university) are trying to do is keep students on campus through the All Aboard card and other programs," said John Forier, owner of Capt. Spiffy's Super Hero Emporium, 944 E. University Blvd.

Only one outside business has been allowed access to All Aboard: Domino's Pizza Delivery. Low said the Domino's situation involved competitive bidding. They won the bid, he said, so they get to do business with the university, and students can use their All Aboard card for pizza purchases.

"The majority of our business is covered by the All Aboard card," said Paula Phillips, assistant manager of the Domino's Park Avenue store. She said students, who make up most of their customers, present their cards to be swiped through a machine provided by the university when pizzas are delivered to students' dorm doors.

Darego said that she would like to see an agreement reached between the university and area businesses in which students can use their cards in most stores and restaurants.

Spina said he thinks there is enough market diversity for students that he can compete fairly with other retailers.

Low said that allowing access to outside businesses raises some touchy questions. He said the university doesn't want to be mistaken as a bank, placing funds on deposit to be used elsewhere.

"The question we're looking at is, 'Is it legal?'" he said. "We're not in the business to make money off the transactions."

Low said the university attorneys are researching the issue in order to answer that question of legality. He said that if the university dispels that question without any problems, hypothetically speaking, businesses could have access within 10 days.

That access would carry compensatory fees to offset the potential drop in business in the Student Union.

"We would have to set some reasonable criteria and some reasonable fees," he said, "be-

cause the service won't be free." Low said, however, it would not be as easy as most students and business owners think, and that the question probably will not be answered any time soon.

"Are we really making a reasonable effort to resolve this issue?" he said. "We really are."

Although motives may be questioned, the All Aboard card's primary proponents, parents, support the program in order to provide their children with enough money to eat on a regular basis.

"Parents come here with the intent of putting money on their students' accounts, with the concern that their children will get three meals a day," Low said.

"Parents like the idea of the All Aboard card because they can tabulate students' spending," said Spina.

Darego said she has had some contact with parents and thinks if Mike's Place were allowed access, students would get more food for their money.

"Parents come in at the beginning of the semester and ask if their kids can use the card here," Darego said. "They can't because the university won't let them draw out the money."

Low said that the program is not mandatory, and students' money is not inaccessible.

"We're not requiring students to have the All Aboard card," Low said. In fact, he said that if students were dissatisfied with the program they could easily close their accounts and take their money off campus.

"I decided to cancel my card and transfer everything to cash," said chemistry senior Mike Ruane. "I have more freedom with my money."

Low also said a secondary account, Pocket Money, can be established by the student to purchase non-food items.

Student supporters prefer paying with plastic than with cash.

"It's better than carrying cash," said Howard Ryan, interdisciplinary studies senior.

"It's a pain in the butt to stand in line waiting for everyone paying with cash when they can just use the card," said Kevin Hadder, architecture freshman.

Low said he has received numerous requests from businesses for access to both accounts.

If the university did allow access to businesses, Ryan said he would probably use his card off campus.

Sheri Rugg, an undeclared freshman, said she uses her All Aboard all the time and said she would use her card off campus if given the opportunity.

"It would be nice not to have to carry cash off cam


pus," she said.

UA students can only use their All Aboard cards at Student Union venues, such as Fidlee Fig and Union Square Cafe.

"I think we should be allowed to participate in the All Aboard program," said Spina, of Mama's Famous Pizza and Heros. "We're paying a price to be a part of the university and, yet, we are being excluded."

Spina said he contributes to the university in various ways. For instance, he said he pays his rent to the Marshall Foundation, which owns the property the shop owners lease. He said he pays a "slight" percentage above his rent that goes into a scholarship fund the Foundation sponsors.

Hannah Schroeder, an administrative assistant, said the Marshall Foundation owns the University Square complex and the Geronimoz complex on North Euclid Avenue.

Forier, the owner of Capt. Spiffy's Hero Emporium, whose product line consists mainly of comic books, said that the All Aboard card doesn't directly affect him, but it does indirectly have an affect on his business.

"Fewer people in the area means fewer people that shop" in his store, he said. The opposite is also true. The more people in the area shopping, the more business he has, Forier said.

"I know of grocery stores across the street that went out of business for those reasons," he said.

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