EDITORIAL: Buying Haven Books was a costly, irresponsible mistake

Haven Books was doomed from the start.

In March 2007, the Students’ Society paid approximately $40,000 for a consignment bookstore in a poor location, with an unmemorable name and a bad business model. They did so despite a Memorandum of Agreement with McGill that prevented SSMU from advertising the bookstore on campus, and a report from their auditing firm that showed Haven had lost about $95,000 in the previous year.

It was an illogical and irresponsible decision to buy Haven. It is notoriously hard to profit off of student-run businesses (see: Gert’s, Sadie’s Tabagie, etc.), so the issue becomes one of “acceptable” losses. For the services Haven provided, the losses were far too great. While a student-run consignment bookstore may have been a good idea in theory, Haven’s spectacular failure should temper any of SSMU’s future business ventures.

This has not been a cheap experiment. Haven Books will have cost McGill undergraduate students over $250,000 by the time the store closes in April. For that money, a small percentage of the student body has had a portion of their book costs covered – an unequal and uneconomical way to distribute benefits.

Closing Haven was clearly the right decision – one the Tribune applauds SSMU Council and the Operations Committee for making. SSMU should be able to offer a service similar to Haven during add/drop period at a consignment book swap in the Shatner building, or students can sell textbooks over McGill Classifieds, Craigslist, or other online services. Overhead costs killed this venture – which is ironic, since there was no need for to pay for year-round store space in the first place.

Finally, we hope that SSMU councillors are paying attention. The acquisition of Haven was passed through an apathetic Council at the end of 2007, and was the subject of very little debate in the proceeding years – when Haven was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Council should have done its job and protected students from this bad business decision. We’re glad they finally pulled the plug on Haven, but we’re disheartened that they didn’t do so sooner.

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