On the way out: Campus Center vendors vent as UMass changes policy

By Nick Bush

Is this your last day here today?” a young University of Massachusetts Amherst student asked Campus Center jewelry vendor Jim Richards. “Will you be here next semester?” asked another concerned student, visibly worried that the earrings she was eyeing would no longer be there when she returned in January. 

Unfortunately for Richards, the news he had for his customers was not positive. 

“They are stopping vending at the school,” he replied to the two girls, “because they want to put more food and tables in here.” 

After more than three decades of vendors selling their goods – including jewelry, hats, clothing and countless other handcrafted items – the practice is coming to a close at the end of the semester. Word has spread from Tickets Unlimited, the agency that manages tabling for UMass, that the space in the Campus Center will soon be used for other purposes, including new dining options. 

The announcement has surprised many vendors whom, after years of selling to the students and faculty at UMass, are now forced to find a brand new audience for their goods in the midst of a brutal economic recession. 

“It’s a history that has been going on, for I would guess, 30 years,” said Richards, who has been a jewelry vendor in the Campus Center for more than 15 years. “I have friends that used to sell here in the 1970s. A lot of businesses have gotten their start here, including Yankee Candle, which [began here]… It’s an incubator of potential business.” 

The altered policy has had ramifications for some students further than just the lack of interesting items for sale as they head to class, as vendors often employed students to sell their goods and help manage their tables. 

“I don’t have another job on campus,” said Dahlia, a UMass senior and employee of Richards’ vending business. “It was nice to be able to come here and make a little money … I’m just a typical student.” 

“It’s a great resource for the businesses [to sell here],” said Richards, “and for the students to get reasonably priced things, and the faculty as well… That is getting taken over by more food. We are getting booted out for additional food.” 

“I started [vending] at [Boston University], and they did the same thing – stopping at Christmas, giving the kids no time to protest,” said Mia Boldsen, a vintage fashion designer from the Boston area who has sold jewelry at UMass for more than four years. “I understand we take up a lot of space, but they could at least leave one space for vending, and we could all take turns … A compromise.” 

According to Boldsen, vendors pay $70 per day (and often drive many miles) in order to bring their goods directly to students and faculty, enlivening the community with items that cannot be found anywhere else on campus. 

“I once came on a tour [of the Campus Center] with my son when there were no vendors here, and the place was dead and boring,” said Boldsen. “I suppose the big corporations always rule if there is money to be made … But do we really need any more food?” 

Nick Bush can be reached at [email protected]