Some might think Karen Mossbarger would view Washburne Hall University Center’s recent renovation at Pacific University as enemy grounds, but that is not the case. Sitting down for an interview with her back toward the new Starbucks, Mossbarger smiled reflecting upon her experiences with the university.
An imaginary boundary surrounds the University, giving students an impression that the Forest Grove community members do not want them in their businesses. What was voted “the best college town in Oregon” is torn into two sub-towns.
Mossbarger mentioned that currently, the Forest Grove and Pacific University communities are at a disconnect causing a division. She said the Forest Grove business community and university community could do a better job welcoming both patronages from both sides.
Mossbarger is the former owner of Café Montecassino. A coffee shop located less than 400 yards away from campus, about a four-minute walk. Montecassino closed about seven months after the remodel of the UC, which added one of the world’s most famous coffee franchises to the campus.
Some would assume the addition of Starbucks
was her main reason in permanently shutting down Montecassino but she credited students in helping to keep her coffee shop open for the two years she owned it.
“Being a college town is our identity,” Mossbarger said.
In conducting my mini survey for the purpose of this article, a student mentioned that since the remodel of the UC, she did not have a reason to go beyond campus grounds because there was everything that she needed on campus.
Klein mentioned that one year they did a promotion of free pool nights with Ballad Town
Billiards, but both the university and the bar were not making a lot of profit from it.
“It just didn’t work out,” Klein said. “Students were interestingly not interested in that.”
According to students surveyed, local bar Ballad Town Billiards is not the “go-to” bar because of a few bad vibes and an intense atmosphere they received when they did go there. According to President of the Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce Board Jarrod Sherwood, the university is very supportive to local businesses but he understands why students do not consider Forest Grove as “the place” to hang out.
“The community needs to offer something that students are interested in because that they are a huge part of the city’s clientele,” said Sherwood.
Getting students to go beyond the campus boundaries takes a little more effort now because of technology upgrades, a lack of interest they have in Forest Grove and Mossbarger’s label of the UC, “one-stop shop.”
“People have different roles in the community and we normally do not assume everything is a one-stop shop,” Mossbarger said. “By having this mentality on campus, it is not beneficial for students in anyway because they become more isolated and do not know how to support local businesses.”
Mossbarger personally liked students going to Montecassino because she was able to interact with them as individuals.
According to her, the relationships between students and Forest Grove locals were real. When students first went to her coffee shop, she said they
did not know how to interact socially. Creating relationships with students helped bridge that social gap.
According to Forest Grove local Aldie Howard, back when he was student body president at Pacific in 1968, Forest Grove was a very small university town. Now, Howard said the communities are too huge to go back to that culture.
“We lost a lot of the friendliness and connection,” Howard said. “The change is mainly due to technology, but it is also due to the change in attitude from both students and community members.”
Acknowledging that Forest Grove is a college town, Mossbarger adjusted her business structure to accommodate students by moving in more tables and interacting with those students who quickly became apart of her regulars.
“I talked to students on a personal level and I think that is important to build relationships with them, because that is how local businesses thrive here. That is how my business survived,” said Mossbarger.
During her ownership, Mossbarger also opened her business up for students to shoot films.
“Like it or not, Pacific is a growing student community and we are a college town,” said Howard. “It is our obligation to make students feel welcomed in our home, in their new home.”
One student surveyed said he feels no effort from Forest Grove to accomodate students.
“What’s the point in being called ‘the best college town’ when our town closes before nine,” he said. “It makes no sense.
College students stay up late and are hungry all the time. We need somewhere to go and there is no where to go right now to accommodate us.”
From a local business perspective, Mossbarger mentioned that the main problem lies with communication.
“We receive that message of ‘we don’t need you’ or ‘your business does not factor in with what we are doing,’” said Mossbarger. “It’s offensive and that is how the town sometimes feel.”
Yet, she admitted that communication problems are created from both parties. Students brought up the lack of advertising from the community and Mossbarger mentioned the exact same issue, but criticizing the university’s lack of messaging to the public.
“The university hosts the corn roast and sidewalk chalk events but not a lot of people do not know about the smaller events because we don’t hear about it,” said Mossbarger.
One suggestion Mossbarger had was investing in local businesses and partnerships. “Through these partnerships, students can utilize what the community has to offer and are more aware of what is in Forest Grove,” she said.
One student labeled Forest Grove not as “Forest Grove, Home of Pacific University” but as “Pacific University and the town of Forest Grove.”
Mossbarger said Pacific University is in the center of Forest Grove and both cultures need to work together to gain mutual benefits from one another. She smiled thinking of how much both communities could gain if they just worked together better.