In the 2021-22 school year, the student-run cafés and pub are making a return to Wellesley’s campus scene after a year of closure due to COVID-19. The co-ops include Café Hoop and Punch’s Alley, both located on the first floor of Lulu, and El Table, which occupies the ground floor of Founders Hall. The co-ops are entirely student-run, providing a safe space for students of all backgrounds and creating community and entertainment on campus.
This year’s reopening of the co-ops has been long anticipated by students employed there, following an uphill battle against the campus and COVID restrictions that defeated multiple attempts to reopen last year. During the closure, co-op members tackled the inability of being away from their spaces and sharing them with other Wellesley students.
“In Spring 2021, there was a chance for reopening… all the co-ops put together reopening proposals, but the College ultimately decided that it wasn’t feasible, COVID-wise, for the co-ops to reopen, which was really upsetting for us,” said Tarini Sinha ’22, co-general manager of Café Hoop. “We’ve had a lot of false starts over the past year where it was like, we might be able to open, but we can’t.”
The main reason that the co-ops were unable to open during the 2020-21 school year was because of COVID-19 restrictions set by the town of Wellesley and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. According to Jessica Grady, director of Student Involvement and Leadership at Wellesley, last year, the co-ops were evaluated under guidelines of food and restaurant regulations that were outside of the College’s control. Among these guidelines were physical distancing requirements and the need to install shield protectors inside the area, which did not seem feasible.
Over the summer, the commonwealth relaxed its social distancing regulations on food establishments, which meant that the co-ops could finally reopen, though not without some lingering restrictions such as capacity limits and masking of co-op goers who are not actively eating and drinking.
“We can definitely tell those places have been missed,” Grady said. “I’m just really excited for students to get what they want and those managers who worked really hard to come up with a plan to first and foremost be safe for the employees and students who are visiting the establishments, and also have been putting a lot of time into making that place special.”
Despite some logistical changes that are necessary for the safety and well-being of the community, the co-ops are eager to return to serving the Wellesley community. Some challenges they are facing, however, include the hiring of new staff members, navigating the workspace due to COVID restrictions and the fact that half of Wellesley students have never experienced a semester with the co-ops running.
“A big challenge we’re going to face is, how are we going to bring sophomores into the space, who have had a full year and a bit without seeing Hoop open?” Sinha said. “We’re also not going to be back to the way we are … COVID-wise. I think that will be an interesting adjustment for us, because we usually like to be hands-off and let customers do their thing, but just to be safe, we will have to be really clear about those expectations.”
As reopening day draws closer for the co-ops, they have been receiving a lot of love from the greater Wellesley community and were thankful to be gifted with generous donations and visits from students during fundraising events. There is much anticipation in the air as everyone is eager to relish their memories dining and laughing with friends at co-ops, or simply visiting the co-ops for the very first time.
“As a sophomore who was remote all of first-year, I felt that my Wellesley experience was purely reduced to academics,” said Ash He ’24. “I feel that a huge part of the community aspect here is just being able to wander into the Pub or Café Hoop, unplanned and just passing by. It’s these spontaneous moments of connection that give your Wellesley experience life beyond academia!”
While no reopening date for the co-ops has been set yet as general managers are still finalizing last minute logistical details and hiring new members, Wellesley students can look forward to seeing them buzzing with people again in the upcoming weeks.