North Texas Daily

Pretending the university cares about small businesses is insulting

Pretending the university cares about small businesses is insulting

Pretending the university cares about small businesses is insulting
July 31
13:20 2020

In the summer 2020 issue of the North Texan, the university-run quarterly magazine, an article ran that highlighted alumni-owned businesses in Denton and beyond. The magazine asked readers what better time to support local enterprises and “fellow Eagles” than during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is turning small businesses across the country into collateral damage. 

The article’s call to action itself is extremely valid and important. As Denton bids farewell to SCRAP Denton, Mad World Records, Freaks and Geeks’ physical location and more, the importance of supporting beloved community businesses cannot be overstated. The businesses listed in the North Texan are no different either —among them Denton staples and hidden gems alike — and need customer support more than ever.   

However, the university’s attempt to seem like it supports local stores is an insult to the Denton businesses that it has deliberately targeted and/or shut down out of corporate greed. 

Over the past few years, the university has used various tactics in an attempt to acquire properties located close to campus on Avenue C, Eagle Drive and alongside Interstate 35. In 2015, the Sack ‘n Save off I-35 closed after being bought by the university. It now houses the Support and Services building. In early 2019, the IHOP off of Mozart Square was acquired through eminent domain and shut down.    

The university then turned its sights on the remaining businesses on Avenue C. In February 2019, the UNT System Board of Regents passed motions to purchase or exercise eminent domain on properties including Eagle Car Wash, Campus Bookstore, Oriental Express, Naranja Cafe and New York Sub Hub. 

Eight months later, after none of the property owners accepted purchase offers, the university began the process to seize the businesses’ land through eminent domain. Students may remember the pushback that followed, headed by New York Sub Hub’s owner Hunter Christiansen. Petitions were signed and student outcry was voiced. The university’s expansion plan, which had been marketed as being carried out with students’ best interests in mind, faced disapproval from a majority of the student body. 

It is not surprising, but no less disappointing, that the university showed its true colors as it continued to pursue the properties beloved by the community. 

In early 2020, the property containing New York Sub Hub and Naranja Cafe was sold to the university for $1.4 million. The deal was brokered by Christiansen’s father, without the rest of the family’s knowledge. The shop has one more year to operate following the transaction’s February closing date. It is unclear if the owners of Naranja Cafe were involved with the deal.

All of this ruthless acquisition falls under the university’s 2013 Master Plan, which highlights expansion and specifically describes the desire to build a grand entrance to the university where the Avenue C properties are currently located. 

Neither students nor members of the greater Denton community want a “grand entrance” to the university. They want the services and job opportunities offered by local businesses. However, as seen above, the university’s track record clearly shows that it does not care about what its students want. It does not care about financially supporting the surrounding community. 

The university’s blatant attempt to act otherwise by publishing an article advocating for buying local is a slap in the face to the now-defunct Denton businesses that had thrived for decades and were relied on by community members. 

If the university truly cares about the businesses listed in the North Texan, then it holds an obvious bias against alumni-owned properties. Additionally, it would be interesting to know if and how the university is lending financial support to these businesses during the pandemic. 

If the article was simply a public relations stunt — readers should note that the magazine is made by the Division of Brand Strategy and Communications — then it is as insidious as it is tone-deaf. The university cannot expect to simply erase its past of preying on local businesses by writing a fluff piece.

A large portion of the business that the former IHOP and Sack ‘n Save received came from students. Ask any student that attended UNT before fall 2019 and they are likely to have a fond memory of going on a pancake run with friends at 1 a.m. Consider the students (and other community members) who did not have access to reliable transportation to the Walmart off of University Drive and depended on the Sack ‘n Save to buy essentials.    

Take a moment to calculate the lost job opportunities for students that were once offered by these businesses, often at a higher pay rate than the standard $7.25 of on-campus jobs. 

New York Sub Hub, Naranja Cafe and Oriental express offer quick and delicious meals within walking distance of student housing. The Campus Bookstore is a vital alternative to the university’s Barnes & Noble, with competitive prices and free scantrons. It is obvious that the university does not want students spending money on meals or school supplies outside of the institution, but where does it end? 

Does this mean students should expect the launch of a university-owned car cleaning service to replace Eagle Car Wash? Or is this another reflection of the university’s indifference to students’ needs? 

Universities are meant to be community partners, not conquerors of local businesses. In the midst of a global pandemic, it would be dishonorable to forget that UNT has been a threat to Denton properties long before the coronavirus came. 

Featured Illustration: Miranda Thomas

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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