Until recently, Barnes & Noble College General Manager Frank Tallarico used to go to work wearing a hard hat and a yellow vest, navigating the 14-acre construction site that would become College Town. The mixed-use development on Mt. Hope and Elmwood Avenues, at the eastern edge of the University of Rochester campus, is the ambitious $100 million realization of a vision by the university and city that will include stores, restaurants, offices, a 150-room hotel and conference center plus a parking garage with capacity for 850 vehicles and a dedicated passageway for bicyclists. And the first retail business on the new College Town development was the recently opened Barnes & Noble at University of Rochester bookstore.
“It’s not easy to capture how excited the bookstore staff and I are to be open at College Town,” Tallarico says. “We’re extremely proud of the store and looking forward to partnering with the other businesses here to really make some exciting things happen.” Although it was always planned, the bookstore, with its strong brand and food-service base, would be a cornerstone for the development. Transition from the bookstore’s former River Campus and Medical Center locations needed to be completed in just two weeks.
The grand opening over October 16-19 was designed to coincide with Meliora Weekend, when the University of Rochester celebrates reunions, family weekend and homecoming activities. “It was hectic, but the visitors were able to get a taste of the future of College Town with samplings from some of the coming businesses ─The Corner Bakery, Insomnia Cookies and Jimmy Johns ─ while touring the new store,” Tallarico says.
Breathe Yoga and The Corner Bakery will be next to open on the site, joined by more stores, restaurants, and other businesses to create an exceptionally well-balanced community at College Town. The site is scheduled for completion next year with Constantino’s Market rounding out the development. “There’s always been a lot going on in Rochester, but College Town will be a great focal point for students to gather, along with employees of the medical center and patients and visitors. It really brings all the various aspects of our community together,” says Cam Schauf, University of Rochester’s Director of Campus Dining Services and Auxiliary Operations. Offering 20,000 square feet of retail space, over two levels, the new store’s ground floor features a Yellow Jacket Spirit Shop, cards and gifts, a convenience area with snacks and drinks, a general reading area, and two dedicated children’s spaces. The open plan design opens up to the second-floor balcony with wall surfaces featuring graphics of students, athletes, scientists and faculty and staff representing the various University of Rochester constituencies.
The academic heart of the store is located on the second floor with textbooks and school, medical and art supplies. The building is also lit by oversized windows that welcome in the natural light and create an added connection to the outside community. “There’s so much more opportunity here to really bring out all of our product merchandising,” Tallarico says, “and it’s also easier to get our staff out on the floor providing that outstanding customer service.”
Ironically, Tallarico himself finds he’s now spending more time outside of his new store. “We’ve always been proud to serve the University of Rochester academic and medical populations, but now we’re also partnering with the residential and commercial community around us, and designing programs and events with new businesses as they arrive,” he explains. “What we wanted to create with the bookstore is a place to ‘be’ — a living breathing space that draws people in, and brings an exciting vitality to the area.” Schauf concurs. He points to bookstore programs such as regular children’s reading hours, book signings, musical performances and other events designed to appeal to both Rochester’s academic and non-academic communities.
“It’s always been part of our culture to get students off campus to learn more about the city they’re a part of, and there are a lot of opportunities for students to work in the community, in schools or any of our nonprofit organizations in the Rochester area,” Schauf says, noting that College Town will play an increasing role in that involvement. “It will continue to build excitement, and we’ll see the opening of many more businesses as the project grows, and continues to offer more for the university and for our community,” he adds. In the meantime, General Manager Tallarico hasn’t totally abandoned his construction gear, which he wore while hosting the store’s inaugural children’s reading event. And the book he chose to share with the store’s first eager young audience? ‘Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site.’