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51 Main has been open since last May, providing a social alternative for a mix of students, faculty, staff, and townspeople. The venue is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights for drinks, food, and entertainment. Recently they’ve begun to host special events on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This Tuesday, for instance, President Emeritus John McCardell gave a presentation on the drinking age.

51 Main appears to be filling a niche, but given the current fiscal situation, the establishment may be a program that the College should reassess. Although revenues are on the rise, the establishment does operate at a deficit, which is covered by a gift that the College received from a donor. The gift is restricted, which in this case means that the funds must be used to support student social life. On this point, it’s worth noting that the idea for 51 Main—and the occasion for the gift—came from an all-student task force that spent much of the 2006-2007 year brainstorming ways to improve social life on campus. So the funding for the venue is targeted. However, we could go back to the donor, and ask that he redefine the terms of the gift so that it can be used for other purposes. If we were able to redirect the gift, the money would then be put toward general budget relief.

President Liebowitz and I are willing to pursue this option, but not without first hearing from students. Is 51 Main succeeding? Should the College support its continued development?

We want to use this blog as a forum for soliciting student input on this matter. So offer your comments—anonymously, if you like—and please let us know what you think. Is 51 Main is worth keeping?

61 Responses to “51 Main: Thumbs Up or Down?”

  1. Ryan says:

    As a follow-up to a MiddBlog post (http://midd-blog.com/2008/09/22/51-main-street-a-review/) back in September, I still think 51 Main is one of the smartest things the College has done for social life. I certainly have seen an uptick of students seriously considering it as an option on all weekend nights including Thurs. I strongly believe it should continue to exist because we have just began to see the effects of its success.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Not a student’s opinion, but a staff member: the budget crisis is severe, the college is overstretched and cutbacks need to be made. It’s hard to justify sustaining a nightclub that’s only open 3 days a week and that serves a small portion of the community (and in a controversial way to the town residents). Even if the budgetary impact would not be that big, the good PR move is to cutback on garnishes and frills – it’s hard to think that the administration is taking things that seriously when it supports projects like 51 Main, Old Stone Mill, MMLA, and others that do little to serve the academic mission of the college, while academic departments & support programs are being told to make cutbacks. It would do staff morale good for the administration to end a pet project like this, showing that we all must make sacrifices, and sending a message that academics is more important than fancy food & drink.

  3. A Different Anonymous says:

    As another staff member, I disagree with the poster above. I think that regardless of the sort of success that 51 Main may or may not have had thus far, it’s important to see it through, at least a little farther. Sure, many of us are probably frustrated with the term “stay the course,” but the truth of the matter is, 51 Main hasn’t been given enough time to flourish.

    The heart of the matter is, the perception among students were the College to begin cramping down on their non-academic outlets would be a very negative one. Instead, the College should be examining ways to keep 51 Main, increase it’s popularity among students, and perhaps even turn it into a profitable operation. Middlebury isn’t a huge town, but I’m sure with the cards played right it could support two bars on the same street.

    Lastly, I think that asking the donor to redirect their gift would be a sore spot on the College’s reputation when it comes to fund raising. We’ve been told time and time again that projects which were already budgeted or donor-funded would not suffer the same sort of cutbacks. I feel donors would be turned off to the idea that if they give a gift for a specific purpose that only a short time later the College would be rattling a tin cup and asking to change it. If anything, I’d think that if a donor saw one of their projects become successful, they may be likely to donate again or to encourage their colleagues, families and friends to donate.

    My two cents (which is apparently a lot around here these days).

  4. Junior Student says:

    There are some students, myself included, who simply can’t stand the loud & drunk atmosphere of the other bar on Main Street every weekend night. We want somewhere to go for a quiet drink or two, comfy chairs, a game of speed Scrabble. I was at 51 Main the night recently when SIM sang, and the place was packed with happy, excited students (and some staff, and some faculty) who were buying drinks, socializing, listening to the music. It was really fun. That’s exactly the kind of community environment for adults that the College should be providing. The Grille isn’t that and never could be. Two Brothers and Ups are polar opposites, the first full of drunk jocks and the second full of drunk townies. I and my friends don’t go to 51 Main every weekend, but we’re there 4-5 times a month.

    The previous staff poster is correct: the College hasn’t given 51 Main time enough to prove itself. Additionally, I believe cuts to non-Vermont-based Midd programs, such as MIIS and the Schools Abroad, make more sense than trimming programs here in Vermont. The College is about its undergraduate academics first, then its undergrad social scene, or should be. Other programs are fine, and definitely enhance our reputation. But they are less important than what’s going on in the town of Middlebury itself – I feel most any undergrad will be of that opinion, and most of their parents will feel the same. For all these reasons, the College should let 51 grow and develop and, if in a year’s time it has not made significant gains, then consider trimming its events/hours of operation. Meanwhile, cuts should be made in California and locations around the world, not in Vermont.

  5. Anonymous #3 says:

    As a staff member and town resident I would like to heartily disagree with the first anonymous poster’s charge that 51 Main is “controversial … to the town residents”. Aside from minor noise for a few (any?) other Battel-block tenants, 51 Main doesn’t seem to have any kind of negative on anyone in town. For the other bars and restaurants I imagine it has little effect as any loss in business is likely offset by the increased draw of students to downtown. The space was previously vacant, now it is filled with something useful.

    I personally find 51 Main to be a great venue and have really enjoyed a number of evenings and events there. Because of its location and operation I find it a very comfortable way to take greater advantage of social events related to the college without feeling like I am invading the student-scene on campus. While large events are always welcoming at the college, as a non-student I would not feel comfortable going to a dorm lounge to hear a student band. 51 Main makes for a great way to mix town/gown and young/old in a lovely environment on neutral turf.

    Also, just a few clarifications: Non-undergraduate programs at the college generally turn a profit (MMLA is apparently planned to turn a profit soon, it just started last year), so closing them wouldn’t be a savings but instead a loss. Similarly, Old Stone Mill and other new projects are fully funded by targeted donations whose funding cannot be redirected toward general use.

  6. Senior Student says:

    Almost any restaurant or bar takes a few years to get off the ground. Most restaurants do not start making a profit for three years.

    It takes time for a “brand” to develop name recognition and popularity, or to develop a consistent message/appearance. If we pull the plug now, it will severely backtrack the efforts of so many people who are devoted to creating and supporting this new environment.

    Once upon a time, before the drinking age was erroneously raised to 21, the social life at Middlebury College was largely focused in the town. There were a handful of more bars open, and the relationship between the town and college was much better, or at the very least, existed – which it hardly does now.

    I believe that regardless of what 51 main achieves, it is a step in the right direction in getting more students into the town.

    As for “only keeping it open 3 nights a weeK”, would you rather we kept it open more than that and spent even more money on it?

  7. Ria says:

    Being a student member of the advisory board for the Old Stone Mill, and having also had the opportunity to work with 51 Main on occasions, I strongly support the existence of 51 Main as part of Middlebury’s facilities, if for nothing else than to give students who normally don’t venture out of their dorms on a Friday/Saturday a relaxed and safe atmosphere. True, it took a while to get off the ground but I don’t exactly see heart-warming responses to all of the College’s aquisitions (which, at one point, included some controversial public art near Hillcrest). It’s brightly lit, there’s good music, you get to hang out with professors and staff who love to drop by on the weekends.

    Quoting the closest thing the College has to a mission statement:
    “Middlebury is an institution with a long-standing international focus, a place where education reflects a sense of looking outward, and a realization that the traditional insularity of the United States is something of the past. We seek to bring to Middlebury those who wish not only to learn about themselves and their own traditions, but also to see beyond the bounds of class, culture, region, or nation.”
    I would shudder to think that the focus of education has turned simply to academics. Certain groups spend hours discussing the ‘integration’ of different student groups on campus, a vital element to seeing beyond the bounds. If members of these groups were to visit 51 Main on a weekend, they would undoubtedly see the intermingling of students across “class, culture, region, or nation”.

    I understand that the financial crisis is scary, and I know that academic departments do bear some of the brunt. Speaking as a senior who, until this point, has no idea whatsoever of where she will be in six months, I personally welcome a place that shows me that Middlebury isn’t as fragmented as people claim and that we’d somehow pull through this.

  8. Anonymous says:

    51 Main is well worth keeping. If the aim was to improve student social life it has done so in more ways than one.
    It has become a space where students can showcase art , music and poetry and for people to be expressive in what they excel in. 51 Main fills a niche that can not be found anyware else in middlebury and has been coined middleburys best kept secret.As far as a venue to relax , have a drink and enjoy great music , a definate thumbs up.

  9. Anonymous says:

    51 Main is an intelligent, innovative option to the usual blaring, inebriated scenes elsewhere in town. I feel it is a prime example of Middlebury walking the walk and talking the talk. It would be very sad to let it go before it’s had a chance to evolve. Please keep it. Thumbs Up!

  10. Senior in Ross says:

    What is this business of changing the intents of gifts from donors? It’s borderline disrespectful to the donor in my opinion, but that is neither here nor there. As so many have said before me, 51 Main needs the chance to grow. Most of us weren’t sure what it was exactly when it opened last year. But as this semester comes to a close, I find myself more and more inclined to venture into town in the bitter cold to attend the events being held there. If that’s what is keeping people away, perhaps create a relationship between 1 of the midd-ride vans on nights of events so that students don’t have to freeze to death in the name of a good time) It needs to be made clearer that students can put events on in 51 Main, also. I think many of us get the sense that you just go there to hang out, but it can be so much more than that. Curse me for saying this, but I’d rather the Bunker get cut than 51 Main. Slowly but surely it is becoming a venue where students, staff/faculty and towns people can be in the same place peacefully and interact together. I know Midd prides itself on the ability to connect students to professors but we cannot forget all of the other staff, nor the people living in the town. Indeed, I believe that should be given more priority at times.

    Just a random suggestion, but I would love if we held a custodian appreciation event at 51 Main and just open the bar to them…they more than earn it on a daily basis.

    DON’T CLOSE 51 MAIN. We “punk” out now, then there’ll be another task force and we’ll be at square one all over again. Just tough it out.

  11. Catarina, Sophomore says:

    I’ve taken a good look at the social life of the college in my two years here. I’ve seen friends and acquaintances drink themselves into “relaxing” to a point where they need care for hours after.

    Now, I have friends who opt to go to 51 Main instead to hear poetry and get to know each other better. That is not to say that going out to bunker etc should be looked down on, but that now I see students around me developing new ways to socially cope with the stress of Middlebury academia.

    I really appreciate the first staff member’s opinion, even though I disagree. We wouldn’t be here as students if we didn’t value and reap from academia. The problem here is not lack of brilliant professors or bright students engaged with their material. The problem is, we aren’t taught how to cope with the academic focus and stress of this institution. 51 Main offers an alternative space to the normal parties and demonstrates the college’s recognition of our need for a haven and for rest.

    I didn’t support 51 Main at first because I didn’t really see a point to it. I went on a whim in the beginning of the year and began going regularly. Last night I went to see the second Verbal Onslaught of this year and realized the point of the space. It is a foundation for the socially diverse, open community I dreamed of for Middlebury. It is a space for art, talk, and a space to listen.

    From the business perspective, we’re Middlebury and have some smart folks around here. With all our economists and PhDs, I think we can find a way to make the business (as it was said before, one the few hang out spaces on Middlebury’s Main Street) profitable.

    I believe in the energy of 51 Main and am so grateful for how it has manifested within my experience here. The changed perspectives of those around me regarding the options stress relief and social life are palpable, and for that I am also grateful.

  12. Molley says:

    Thank you for giving us a chance to weigh in!

    I hear the issues we’re having with our economic situation. So, firstly, I want to echo almost everyone in saying that I am a huge supporter of 51 Main. Anyone who’s been there–I don’t think Anonymous has–can testify to the fact that it’s not just serving a small portion of the college; I often see professors and other community members there.
    Secondly, 51 Main fills a void. A friend and I had a cathartic moment when we were talking about how we wished there were a place where we can just go to relax and talk but not in our rooms. Our eyes lit up at the same instant, we turned to each other and exclaimed “51 MAIN!” It is that place that Midd has been missing.
    That being said, I wonder if there are more economic ways the college could address this void. The college has A LOT of built in space that, in my opinion, isn’t optimized. Is it possible, for instance, to move the whole shebang over to the CFA cafe’? That’s only open for lunch, and it runs a deficit. Why not combine 51 Main with another space that regularly sees town gown mixing? One downside I could see to this is that many performances happen in the not-soundproofed recital hall and maybe noise from the cafe’ could prove detritous to some great performances. And it’s proximity to the Grille and Juice Bar makes it seem unbalanced to put another central social hub there. On the other hand, people leaving evening events in the CFA would have a venue; impromptu receptions could take place.
    If the options are shutting it down completely or continuing to pour directed funds into it, I STRONGLY support the latter. However, I am hopeful that a balance can be met, given how many facilities the college owns outright. This is definitely something the space committee should address (speaking of which, why aren’t there student representatives on that?)

    Lastly, as Ria pointed out, there are many other directed funding things the college could (and should) go back to the donors about. I’d like to think that the question about 51 Main’s viability and how it factors into our mission statement is raised only because it is less than a year old. Were it as old as the funding that we direct towards bringing our classical music concert series, for instance, that would be as much on the chopping block as 51 Main. In fact, is the college considering talking to whoever dedicated funding to bring Takacs back for a free 20th performance in Mead Chapel? Don’t get me wrong. I’m a dedicated classical music concert attendee. Ken Cowan is talented beyond belief; I haven’t yet missed a Takacs concert while I’ve been in Middlebury. I will always remember the sitar performance and I have seen Whispelway twice. There has been a lot of debate about what MCAB spent to bring Haus on campus but the lack of transparency in how much the college spends in bringing people like Julia Fischer makes controversy about that completely impossible. I understand that it’s great to say that the Jupiter Quartet comes to Midd regularly. It even fits in with our mission statement! I also understand that this administration is taking a proactive role in expanding the classical music scene on campus. And I respect that. But this is an economic crisis and so we should ask ourselves: how much do the students take advantage of these amazing opportunities? Well, I’ve been paying attention and, mostly, I see elderly townspeople; much to my dismay, students just don’t go to them. Furthermore, students that go sometimes only go because concert attendance is a component of their music department course syllabi. I ask the administration to negotiate redirecting those funds. Because, while redirecting funds to 51 Main before would be–as many posters point out–preemptive, there would be nothing preemptive about talking to donors who direct funds towards the rarely-if-ever-attended-by-the-student-body-at-large concert series. And, please please please, no more public “art”.

    Thank you,
    Molley Kaiyoorawongs ’09

  13. Sophomore Student says:

    51 Main is a delightful venue and a special addition to the social life on campus. It would be a shame if it were shut down. It is a venue that helps foster creative energy on campus; it hosts concerts and poetry readings.

    In my opinion, the college needs to work harder at providing opportunities for artists on campus to express themselves. Projects like 51 Main and the Old Stone Mill are invaluable to this community. These venues helps make Middlebury an even more dynamic setting.

    51 Main must have more time.

  14. Senior says:

    51 Main should most definitely be kept open. It’s a warm and comfortable place, and pretty affordable too. I don’t buy the argument about this venue taking the focus away from academics one bit. Let’s be honest for a second: Midd is pretty academically oriented, to the point where to drives students to unhappiness and unhealthiness. We need more social outlets like 51 Main, as it helps promote balance in our lives, which I feel should be a major goal of the school. As far as college towns go, ours is severely lacking in terms of off campus sources of food and entertainment, and it seems silly to take away a space that provides both of those options. We can spend our Fridays at Pearsons party and the Grille for only so long.

  15. Sophomore Feb says:

    Ever since I first wondered down to 51 Main during the first week of school, I have found myself there on numerous occasions for numerous events throughout the school year. Whether it has been writing my radio show, listening to some of the better bands the campus has to offer, eating appetizers with my family during parents weekend, or winding down my night after a show, these experiences have all been enjoyable. 51 Main has been a way for me and my friends to get off campus in the evening and remove ourselves from the college nightlife every so often to spend a night a different way. While I am certainly sensitive to the economic situation and understand that cuts must be made, I ask you to consider giving 51 Main more time to grow into what I believe can be an extremely positive force on our campus for the arts, college-town relations, and our social life in general.

  16. Anonymous says:

    please keep 51 Main open. It is one of the few places on this campus where kids feel like they can escape the high strung atmosphere of the college’s academic life and just take a break and relax with friends. It is truly a pleasure to have it as a part of our campus and to shut it down would be very disappointing,

  17. Sophomore Reg says:

    Even in the face of the financial crisis, 51 Main should most definitely be kept open. Since we are in a really small town and Burlington is 45 minutes away, there aren’t really many places in town to escape to when you’re tired of being on campus or tired of the drinking scene. 51 Main offers us a place to go where it’s quiet and we can just sit and relax. Places like 51 Main are important – especially for those of us who can’t go to bars and need some place else to go. The events that go on at 51 Main are great, and it just needs a little longer to get off the ground.

  18. Sophomore Feb 2 says:

    I feel that 51 Main has been a wonderful addition to the Middlebury community. It offers students an escape into town when you begin to feel trapped on campus. In this past semester I have loved seeing 51 Main become a popular venue for artists both visual and musical. I think that its special that we have a place where our students can have there art work displayed and where students have a space to perform. Every time I have gone back to 51 Main I have seen more and more people supporting its business, both students and staff.
    I feel that closing 51 Main would hinder the community rather than help it.

  19. Midd Alum says:

    51 Main completely won me over. I was more than skeptical last year, and over the summer things languished a bit, but I think the space is flourishing. As an alum living in the area, I love that it’s a space I feel comfortable using — as another poster mentioned above, I don’t feel like I’m invading a student-dominated social space. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way, either. The last several times I’ve dropped in, the space has been bustling with a great mix of people — old and young, town residents and college staff. I’m just sad that this wasn’t around when I was a student. The sort of social scene it inspires — conversation over a drink — is so, so much healthier than what was available on campus over the last couple of years.

    I’m a big fan, and I’d hate to see 51 Main go.

  20. Annonymous Student says:

    51 Main is vital to the Middlebury community. I am well aware that we are currently facing a budget crisis, but that doesn’t mean that it is time to jump ship on 51 Main. It was a gift and an investement that the college made on behalf of student life and the overall betterment of the Middlebury community. By definition 51 must be allowed to remain open. Gifts come with no strings attached. They are not meant to be taken away and reshaped each time someone sees fit. 51 Main is not the ugly sweater that you return to the department store the day after Christmas. Investements are meant to be long-term endeavors. Most businesses take longer than a year to turn a profit so the fact that 51 currently opperates at a deficit should not be held against it as of now. The popularity of the space is increasing amongst students, staff, and townspeople gradually and organically as we claim to like to see things around here. Moreover, most investements that are worthwhile do not offer instant rewards. Attending college, epecially with the cost of tuition at a school such as Middlebury, is not a sound short-term economic decision, yet even in the midst of the fiscal crisis most students are not dropping out of school because when we matriculated we were looking at the long term impact that college will have on our lives. Middlebury preaches a doctrine of openess and mixing yet there are many divisions on our campus. There are breakdowns between students and faculty, Regs and Febs, Internationals and Americans, etc., yet at least as of now 51 has not sucumb to the same divisions as many other spaces on campus. 51 Main has been a space that many different kinds of people can mix and mingle in. The administration worries about students binge drinking at Middlebury, but frankly many students will tell you that often times we drink because it makes for an easy night when we’re too tired to think of something better to do since nothing better is readily available. 51 Main is something better to do and students are gradually starting to realize that. When I go to 51 Main and see a show or just catch up with friends I come back to campus feeling refreshed and I don’t want to come back and throw back a six-pack and I won’t be ending up at the health center. The administration worries about rankings and adminssions and I have to say that in comparison to similiar schools Middlebury’s social scene, especially its off campus offerings are limited. Especially as a school that draws a large portion of its student body from urban areas the lack of nightlife in Middlebury, VT is felt profoundly. No one excpects the college to transform the entire town, but it is the college’s responsibility to address lacks such as late-night excitement. 51 Main is one step toward that goal. As one of the major financial presences in this town it would be socially irresponsible of Middlebury to close 51 Main right now because it is unlikely that another buyer could afford to keep it open. Taking 51 Main awa from students right now, while we have already lost McCollough and Proctor would not be fair. Lastly, as Molley pointed out there are many other projects that the administration shoudld also consider pulling funding from if 51 must stand trial at the cutting block – maybe athletic recruitement, random receptions, and unecessary mailings just to name a few.

    Times may be hard, but not hard enough to justify giving up on the work that 51 Main is doing to improve student life on campus and better the relationship between town and the college-on-the-hill. Something was broken, student life, and the administration was wise to see that. It would be a shame for the administration to go back on their own efforts to address that problem now.

  21. Staff opinion says:

    While I appreciate the opinions of the students who feel that 51 Main adds to the life of the town and campus, as a staff member I just cannot agree that it should remain open. In current economic times, the “social life” argument is a luxury. The College is in the midst of a hiring freeze. Vital positions are not being refilled and we are told that 100 positions must go. Employees (staff, in particular) are worried about their jobs and their families. They are being asked to work harder and sacrifice more, all while the administration subsidizes a nightclub. To what end? The arguments in support of 51 Main are likely the same that were heard in support of the Grille 10 years ago. And yet the Grille is highly underused. And now, 51 Main is essentially competing against it! At the Grille there is a stage, a bar, and good, cheap late night food. It is the perfect venue for performances of all kinds, and it’s a friendly space for 21-year-olds as well as underage students. Before we cut a single job, or refuse to rehire a vital position that goes vacant, the nightclub needs to go.

  22. Language School Student (graduate) says:

    I realize that this is a minor point, but last summer 51 Main proved a very welcome addition to other campus venues and gave the school that I attended/attend the opportunity to hold events that it otherwise could not have. 51 Main is a place that holds a high level of appeal for Language School students.

  23. Yet Another Staff Person says:

    The irony is if we shut 51 Main down, then there will be several people who will lose their jobs. Moreover, I attended the finance meeting with Ron, Patrick, et al. and one thing that is clear is that laying off people is an absolute last resort. There are many ways in which the college can cut costs that do not involve eliminating staff or 51 Main. There are plenty of other drains on our financial resources; it seems premature and irresponsible to place our blame on 51 Main.

    I think 51 Main is becoming an integral part of student social life. We need to consider how unhealthy the social life of Middlebury students has been: there is simply too much drinking. While 51 Main has a bar, yes, I get the distinct impression the bar is not its major draw, unlike Mr. Ups or Two Brothers. Although, it certainly helps to have a wide variety of cocktails and mocktails. 51 Main offers something a little more high brow, which is appealing to all members of the Middlebury community.

    So much time, energy, and money has gone into 51 Main, I think it would be wasteful to turn back now. As someone else said earlier, if 51 Main is eliminated, we’ll find ourselves with yet another Task Force on Social Life.

  24. Anonymous Staff - the community connection? says:

    In a February 2008 Campus article you stated, “in addition to the bar and lounge aspect of the space, it [51 Main] will also function as a location during the day for community events, designed to enable contact between the community and College.” I think it is unfortunate that this aspect of 51 Main has seemingly been forgotten.

  25. Barbara Doyle-Wilch says:

    In reply to the last comment made about community events in 51 Main I would like to respond to the comment about community interaction at 51 Main.
    Since 51 Main opened in June there have been many programs and gatherings for town as well as students, faculty and staff from Middlebury College. Every friday we have music from a wide array of Vermont musicians that has attracted town people as well as College people. We have hosted several receptions for Arts Connect (part of the creative economy efforts of the town), hosted a Town Hall Theater caberet to raise funds to help Rob Demic after his accident, held a ball room dancing class for Town Hall Theater when they mistakenly double booked, and began a forum (one we hope will develop into a series) for public discussion about the 21 drinking age with John McCardell. This summer our “in-language” evenings were open to the public and enjoyed by many in the town and many tourists as well. All of our programs are open to the public and there is usually a good balance with students, College employees and town people.

    If I sound a bit defensive, I must say that I find the “annooymous” critic mistaken in his/her understanding that we have “forgotten” the community aspect of the venue and I am offended by the lack of a name so that I could send this individual a full listing of the programs that have brought together our many communities at 51 Main.

  26. J.P. Allen says:

    Honestly, until November 20th, I had believed 51 Main was just another pointlessly expansionist effort by an administration forced to endlessly construct new facilities to keep up competition with other colleges.

    What changed my mind was Verbal Onslaught, a student spoken-word event that takes place roughly every month at 51 Main. Students performed for an hour, then turned the venue over to Staceyann Chinn, a visiting poet and performer who had been brought to Middlebury for a day. Her performance was stunning, intimate and moving in a way made possible by the shape and atmosphere of the space. Chinn would not have been able to perform amongst the audience members anywhere else on campus.

    I saw students, faculty, staff, and non-college-affiliated people at the event. I was surprised at the turnout.

    That performance alone made 51 Main worthwhile for me.

    Of course, I doubt Verbal Onslaught made the College any money. 51 Main seems doomed to fail at turning a profit. Perhaps if the items on the menu were cheaper… But that’s probably another issue.

  27. townie-alum says:

    Let’s not forget the seed for 51 Main: it was not driven by the administration, but rather it came from a student-only task force (on social life), which proposed alternatives to the same-old, same-old options on campus — something new, something different. It happened to tie nicely into the administration’s desire to increase student-town engagement, which I agree is sorely needed.

    The Verbal Onslaught Nov 20th was a great event. What is probably valuable about 51 Main is the range of events one can attend, and most are very interesting and out of the ordinary.

    As for prices and profits: would someome in an official capacity from the College enlighten MiddBlog as to whether the supposed donor to this project is committed to funding the deficit so those of us who are growing fond of the space don’t grow too fond of it if it is going to close soon on account of the deficits no longer being covered? That is, for how long will the “losses” (and how great are they?) be paid for?

    As a recent graduate, I think 51 Main is the best thing that has happened to the town’s social scene in a long time, and I wish it had existed when I was a student. And by the way, we townies love to see students, faculty, staff, and townspeople mix as they do in 51 Main — in a relaxed and friendly manner. Where else does that happen? Even at hockey games students sit with students, parents sit with parents, and townies sit with townies….

  28. spears13 says:

    In response to the question asked by townie-alum, I would say that, yes, the College–backed by the donor–is prepared to support 51 Main into the near future, assuming that the venue is serving its purpose. The responses here suggest that 51 Main is serving an important role, and that bodes well for the venue’s future.

    On the other hand, that does not mean that 51 Main is now exempt from the discussion of possible budget cuts that is taking place within the Budget Oversight Committee appointed by President Liebowitz. Everything is on the table in those conversations, and rightly so, given the current economic situation. However, the positive comments offered here will make a difference, should the question of 51 Main’s future arise.

    And assuming 51 Main does stay with us, what should it look like? Should we maintain the status quo, opening it on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, with some special events on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons and evenings? Or should we consider expanding its hours to other parts of the day, or additional nights?

    Feedback on these questions would be much appreciated.

    -Tim Spears

  29. While I’m agnostic on 51 Main – I’m sure it’s a good thing in many ways, but given our budget situation, many good things will be cut back or eliminated – I do have strong beliefs as to what a comment thread means. I don’t think a discussion thread like this is evidence demonstrating the relative value of the program. If you put practically any area of the college on the table to discuss as a viable target of cutbacks, you’d get a string of defenders praising how vital it is. The only people to say anything bad about the program have been anonymous staff, who are presumably a bit more on the front lines of cutbacks than students and alumni, and thus realize that maintaining 51 Main means cutting something else. It is a zero-sum game.

    A more productive discussion thread would be to post a list of 5 or so potential targets, and ask commenters to justify which one of these should be eliminated or drastically cutback while sparing the others. I don’t feel comfortable posing my own list here, but I’m sure the administration could come up with a list of a few programs that students generally like that they’d be interested in feedback on. I’d love to hear from students what they’d cut when faced with the reality that something has to go – and that simply is the reality we are facing!

    But we also have to remember that there are some programs that serve “special interests” and thus would not generate a chorus of voices supporting its continuing funding – yet these programs would be considered essential for the minority. Is it better to cut a program that the majority likes but find inessential, or one that doesn’t even register for most people, but is central to the lives of a few? That type of exercise would be a good application of the liberal education that our students are receiving…

  30. anon staff says:

    “…and thus realize that maintaining 51 Main means cutting something else. It is a zero-sum game.”

    Not it is not. First of all, some programs generate revenue or are fully supported and do not affect the operating budget. Other programs, in fact most at the College, are paid for by the College and drain resources, so I don’t know why so many people, even those with Ph.Ds miss this fact. A profitable or even break-even 51 Main preserves jobs as it provides work and possible adds to the College’s bottom line.

    Second, though blogs are not a scientifically drawn sample to reflect any population, the comments on this string are smart, intelligent, and point to the tension among the many goals an institution like Middlebury faces in these tough times. The purpose of 51 Main, as I understand it, is to provide an alternative to social life without which more students would be engaged in, well, perhaps overzealous drinking, etc. But I guess faculty do not worry about such things since they depart the campus at 6 p.m. and think our students have nothing better to do than study, and leave the clean-up of such behavior to the staff many on faculty believe they are defending or supporting.

    Claiming things are a zero-sum game unfortunately pits groups against one another, in this case students and staff. In fact, folks who work at 51 Main are Middlebury staff, so cutting it back cuts back our staff. Right professor?

  31. To the last “anon staff”: actually, the budget is a zero-sum game, because budgets are based on both costs and revenues. It is true that retail operations like 51 Main can break-even or turn a profit, but the funding that has been referred to in this thread is to offset the fact that it is currently running at a deficit. In fact, the various budget presentations on campus have made clear that Middlebury’s retail ops almost uniformly lose money, requiring budget subsidies. They may be worth it, but they do cost the college money – and thus maintaining them will force the college to cut other programming.

    If you can propose how to make these operations profitable, and how to balance our budget without cutting programs or staff, I’m sure you’ll have a receptive audience!

  32. anon staff says:

    No you are not correct in understanding budgets.

    If the current donor pledges for 10 years to gap the budget deficits, which is the current case, Mr. Mittell, then it has no impact on the operating budget. To close 51 Main with this funding in hand, and restricted, means we lose 51 Main, and the donor takes back his or her gift: it is restricted, based on the student social life task force recommendation, and is not fungible — can’t go to fin aid or fac salaries, for example.

    You are right for all programs that do NOT generate revenue — such as the media studies programs or almost every academic program (the sciences generated overhead $$ from foundations, NSF, etc when a faculty member wins a grant, but not enough to cover Bi-Hall operations). $$$ allcoated to your program, for example, unless it is endowed by a donor or supported by restricted annual gifts (which I am not aware of) costs the College in ways that 51 Main is not right now. You can’t lump all auxiliary enterprises together: again, some, like 51 Main (and it may be the only one!) are funded while the Grille and Rehearsals are not funded from donors.

    Maybe this is clearer now and why it is not a zero sum game…

    But you did not comment on the fact that 51 Main, too, employs staff who are “our” staff…so let’s hope it can break even, with or without the lucky donor we have.

  33. Micah Gurard-Levin says:

    As a former student who served on the Task Force on Social Life two years ago, and who spent several afternoons with Tim Spears and others meeting in the formerly vacant space at 51 Main, I am sincerely pleased with the types of comments posted here that support the space. I spent five wonderful and challenging years as a member of the campus community and often criticized the administration, but I am most proud of the efforts that are being realized every weekend at 51 Main.

    To those that talk about the academic nature of the college as a priority against 51 Main: I am now surviving in the real world on my own with a non-academic job in something which I never studied in the Middlebury classroom. I’m an analyst (with a BA in Soc/Anthro) with an international entertainment corporation where the skills I learned as a leader for the Middlebury College Activities Board prove to be very valuable(e.g., budgeting and financial forecasting). My involvement in the local Denver community where I now live is motivated by my previous involvement in Middlebury community projects in which I participated as a student at Middlebury (e.g., 51 Main, Havurah). While my Sociology education clearly inspired my passion for community development, it was not the sole deal-breaker for my current success.

    51 Main is just a first step, and still a new step, towards improved community relations that would (and have) otherwise plague(d) the college for much longer than the financial crisis. Together as a community, the town and college will survive the crisis, but I would hate to see the end of a project that inspires town and gown to come together.

    Lastly, I agree with Professor Mittell that this is not the proper place to receive balanced feedback (if it exists), but I applaud Tim for attempting to create transparency and allowing the voices of the community to be heard.

    Micah Gurard-Levin ’08

  34. Debby Anderson says:

    To me 51 Main has been a wonderful example of Town/Gown in downtown Middlebury. I attended an ArtsConnect meeting there last night and stayed for the opening of a student photographic exhibit. Quite good! For a number of reasons, I would hate to see it close. As the wife of the executive director of Town Hall Theater, 51 Main has become the place we frequent after rehearsals and performances. As a former tenant of the space (my old store dada), I am thrilled to see it reinvented. My only complaint is that it isn’t open enough. As someone with a history of retail experience, I don’t think any establishment can afford to be closed more than it’s open. I personally would love to see lunch and more evenings added to the equation.

  35. Community Member from town says:

    I can’t pretend to understand all of the fiscal pressures the college faces right now, but I wonder if Middlebury students can think of an answer. With so many creative, entrepreneurial minds on campus, surely they could come up with some ideas to help 51 Main operate in the black.

    The college’s commitment to creating this space has been phenomenal and is to be admired. 51 Main encourages a community spirit that we desperately need in these difficult times. It is so nice to see students entertaining themselves in intelligent, healthy ways

  36. anonalum'73 says:

    The College has made so many generous gestures to the greater community in recent years, a fact for which many of us are deeply grateful. Not simply because of the monetary contribution that has gone to shore up our infrastructure and ease the tax burden on residents, but because of the warmth of feeling that has been fostered in so many ways between town and college in the recognition of the importance of each to the other. One example, and conceding a considerable bias in this regard, seeing the enormous turnout of townspeople at hockey games and the enthusiasm that connection inspires, fans appreciating the College and team, team appreciating fans, has been an enormous source of pleasure to me, rooted as I am in both communities. And I see 51 Main as an enlargement of this cultural cross pollination. As 51 Main gains traction on its mission, more ways will be found to serve both communities and enhance their interaction, benefiting all. It is understandable that in the current economic climate, 51 Main can easily be dismissed as secondary to the College’s mission, but count one more voice in on the side hoping that a way can be found to preserve the opportunity 51 Main represents.

  37. Senior Snob says:

    Please don’t shut 51 Main down. I have been a regular visitor since early this summer. Overtime the place has evolved into a very inviting and somewhat chic spot for students. It is a much more civil environment than any other spot in town, permitting conversation and fun at the same time. One of the most positive characteristics of it is the mixing of faculty and staff (mostly young ones) with students in a setting outside the class, but not as awkward as the town bars, or say the Bunker (…)
    The college should close the Bunker or sell the art-piece outside Hillcrest to make money; if the choice is between saving money and running 51 Main.

  38. alum'79 says:

    Can’t agree more, Senior Snob. You don’t sound snobby to me. 51 Main is a leveler — brings together people like no other place. Wish it were open more nights, but maybe student traffic would be non-existent during the week. Any students care to venture whether any students would visit other nights?

  39. I certainly think that a lot of valid points for 51 Main—both pro and con—have been raised in this thread. Rather than rehearse these points, I would like to raise two ways in which 51 Main has been an important asset to my Middlebury experience as a faculty member:

    (1) For faculty in general and young faculty in particular, one of Middlebury’s largest liabilities is its lack of metropolitan culture. Impressionistic evidence suggests that if a candidate for a faculty position rejects an offer from the College, it is often because the candidate would prefer to live in a more urban environment. A similar argument can be made for faculty members who leave the College for other positions. While Middlebury will never have the social spots and cultural attractions of a major city, 51 Main provides at least one venue that feels familiar to those of us who are from big cities. So while it is an admittedly an indirect causal link, I believe an argument can be made that 51 Main is important in attracting and retaining many professors who would otherwise be alienated by a rural Vermont town.

    (2) Closely related, I have found that 51 Main provides the best available venue for certain events that straddle education and recreation. To name three that I have organized:

    a. Percussionist and sculptor Mario Schambon performed a concert at 51 Main after being an accompanist in a dance class, leading a discussion about his sculpture for the Cafecito Hour Lecture Series, and playing music with a number of student musicians at the Middlebury Open Improvisation.

    b. The Chicago Afrobeat Project gave a lecture on the history of Afrobeat music and then performed at 51 Main.

    c. The jazz trio the mi3 led a workshop and performed at 51 Main.

    All three concerts were very well attended and, as the workshops, lectures, etc. indicate, had an important educational component. Equally important, while I certainly don’t have access to 51 Main’s books, my guess is that these were nights where it made a profit. So, at its best, 51 Main can be economically viable AND complement an educational agenda.

    Now it might be argued that none of this required 51 Main, so let me address this. The genres of music discussed above (avant garde, afrobeat, and jazz) are not regular fixtures in the College’s musical programming, and don’t seem well-suited to being performed at the CFA. For a College that aspires to be international, diverse, and intellectually ambitious, it is desirable to represent a wider variety of music, and because it is the only place in town/on campus that has the feel of a real club, 51 Main is the kind of venue that can attract fairly elite musicians in these other genres. I’m also confident that, if allowed to continue, the musical programming for 51 Main will improve as it gets more exposure and more artists begin to recognize Middlebury as a good stop in between Montreal and Boston/NYC on their tours.

    As I said above, there’s a lot here that I’m not addressing–financial concerns being chief among them–but I hope that what I have said here illustrates some of the ways in which 51 Main is a unique asset to Middlebury.

  40. David Stoll says:

    My wife and child and I have really enjoyed ourselves at 51 Main, for the same reasons described above. The overlap with the original mission of the Grille is a good point–we also enjoy going there. Still, 51 Main feels very different and, because of the location and aesthetics, it has a much better chance of attracting the town community. I wonder how much 51 Main is operating in the red, whether we can think of ways to attract more townies with money to spend on drinks and food, and whether there’s any chance of making the place break even within the next year or two. Surely with all our college brains we can figure out how to minimize the need for subsidies.

  41. SophLaxer says:

    Why close something that works, that offers an alternative to the recognized limited social life on campus, and brings students and pepole from town together (and faculty!!)? If the donor stops funding 51 Main, ask students to help devise program that could increase revenue, including renting out space on weeknights, serving food during the day, and so on.

    Dolce is but one example of how students can increase traffic at 51 Main (and what a great move this was: thank you Mr. Biette or Mr. Jordan, or whoever was responsible!).

    I for one hope 51 Main is with us for a long time.

  42. Michael Katz says:

    As a faculty member who has been hearing about various cuts being proposed, and as one who recently received a notice that we were told not to spend our J-term budgets on refreshments for our students, I would support closing 51 Main as soon as possible. I also feel strongly that the college should not be in the business of competing with merchants in town. In most college towns, the town-gown balance is a very delicate one, why do something so counterproductive that it can make things worse?

  43. Helen Miller, Midd Alumna says:

    Professor Katz assumes a number of things in his post, and I would like to challenge some.

    First, town-gown balance? Has the College ever been so generous to the town as it has been in the past 3 years? Guaranteeing the sucessful completion of the Town Hall Theater project with a $1 million gift, and financing a new bridget that had been sought and needed sorely for 50 years are just two remarkable contributions the College has done for the town since 2006. It is true the College has its own interests in these projects, but show me another institution that has done a similar thing on this scale when it didn’t have to (remember: the College provides a payment in lieu of taxes each year to supplement the town budget).

    Second: if 51 Main were not there, it is most likely that another restaurant would be in that space, as it was before. That restaurant would be operating full time and rwould epresent a greater source of “competition” than 51 Main does today. So perhaps the merchants in Middlebury who “fear” competition should applaud the College’s use of the space, as it operates less than 50% of the time and therefore is less of a competitive threat.

    And third: Professor Katz — if I were a student reading your post I would ask how often you are around on campus after 6 p.m. — no make that 5:30 p.m.? Probably very rarely. So who are you to suggest that closing 51 Main, and taking away one of the very few social outlets the student have today, should happen immediately? What exactly would we be solving? Making sure everyone suffers during the economic downturn? The College would be leaving a space open that, if filled, would create greater, not less, competition for the businesses you claim to be so interested in protecting, and if it were left unfilled because nobody wants to or can start a business in this environment, would reduce the tax revenue that 51 Main now produces for the town and state budget.

    But most important, we would be removing yet another successful option for student social life on campus in s rural area, already short on options. I fear your training as a Russian scholar during the Soviet era has locked you into the old Soviet ideology of “nobody can have something unless everyone can have it.” In this case, you want to somehow protect other businesses in town, or make sure those who suffer from budget cutbacks at the College aren’t alone in their sacrifices and suffering, by closing down 51 Main Street. Get a life: better yet, I suggest you stay on campus from 5:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. for a week and then rethink your absolutist sentiment about closing 51 Main.

    And by the way: if you are so concerned about those refreshments for your students, buy them with your own resources: since the average full professor at the College earns more than $125,000/year, it would seem you could afford it. Finally, with that level of income, we should, using your logic, redistribute some of it to those less fortunate in the community. Then others might take more seriously your dire concern for the closing of 51 Main.

  44. SophLaxer says:


    What year did you graduate, and we get you involved in more campus causes?

  45. vt_anymoose says:

    Another Staff Perspective: I would like to see the venue at 51 Main expanded… not cut back. It is a travesty that this potential jewel is dark as often as it is. Personally, I would like the option of being able to take colleagues, friends, students, etc. to lunch in an inviting atmosphere AWAY from the campus. Redfield-Proctor was ok, but still had the campus feel.

    It won’t win me any friends, but here is my suggestion. Close Rehearsals and take the staff and menu from there and open 51 Main for lunch. It will be a nice alternative to the other fares in downtown, give us (faculty, staff, students) a place to meet for lunch, and close an operation that by the college’s own reports, is loosing money without costing those people their jobs. It will likely attract some townspeople in for lunch as well. All the better to keep the money flowing. It also give people from town an opportunity to mix with faculty, staff, and students at midday. A lot of people go home in the evening and never return to town/campus. A wonderful way to extend that town/gown bonding.

    Oh yes, untie the hands of Dining Services and Ms. Doyle-Welch. Let them advertise! How can you expect 51 Main to make it if it is dark and unknown.

    Thank you for the forum.

  46. Anonymous #3 says:

    Good point vt_anymoose. Is Rehersals really even used by people without offices in the CFA? The few times I’ve been in the CFA around lunch-time I’ve never seen more than two people there. It seems that redirecting those resources to 51 Main could potentially provide much better service to the college and town than continuing to operate Rehersals on a non-event-related basis. There is no reason that Rehersals couldn’t be reopened in a few years if demand and financial situation warranted.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Now, I have friends who opt to go to 51 Main instead to hear poetry and get to know each other better. That is not to say that going out to bunker etc should be looked down on, but that now I see students around me developing new ways to socially cope with the stress of Middlebury academia.


  48. Ernest says:

    Now is a good time to be thinking about engaging in some entrepreneurial joy http://www.entrepreneurialjoy.com

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