In the wake of 1971 Vietnam War protests during which riot police used tear gas on campus, then-student body President and Vice President Roger Cochetti and Nancy Kent created a non-profit, The Students of Georgetown, Inc., “to assert and protect the inherent rights of its members [students] and the community” — through legal action against the University, if necessary (A lawsuit was filed two years later). Read more about these events here.
Student-administration relationships mellowed with the war’s end, prompting the young non-profit to take up a new form of advocacy: providing low-cost, high-quality goods and services, providing students with hands-on experience running a business, and funding philanthropic causes in the campus community.
The First Storefronts
“The Corp,” as it soon came to be known, had no money to fund its operations, and took up selling yogurt and Coca-Cola (the two critical foods that would give Vital Vittles its name) in March, 1972. In Fall, it took over the student government’s Book Co-op, a non-profit textbook exchange, and the only Corp business that predates the Corp itself. A month later, the Corp opened a Record Co-op, which paid employees in unsold vinyl records rather than cash. Corp Travel opened soon after to help students plan for study abroad, and later ventures include a Furniture Co-op, Movie Mayhem, Corp Typing and Corp Copying, Cone Zone, and Full Exposure. Read more about The Corp’s Lost Services.
The Corp Marketing Department has also been around almost since the beginning. It advertised for The Corp’s various services, and doubling as a full-fledged graphic design service, Corp Advertising, providing its services to student groups from 1982 to 1997. In 2005 it merged with the fledgling IT Department to form Corp IT+Marketing, a hybrid department that brings together some of Georgetown’s most talented artists and sharpest technical minds.
The GUTS Bus is Born
One of these Lost Services, Corp Shuttles, was founded in 1973 to provide transportation to off-campus student housing at Alban Towers. A University grant and a gift from the Student Government funded the program, though it suffered from lack of rider support from the outset. The University eventually took over the bus system, and began to fund it with a transportation fee levied on all students. Forty years later, those same buses, now known as the Georgetown University Transportation Shuttles (GUTS), ferry students, housekeeping staff, professors, and hospital employees to Dupont Circle, Rosslyn, Wisconsin Avenue and M Street.
For Profit or Not?
Though it is now a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit corporation, this was not always true. The IRS repeatedly denied the student-run corporation tax-exempt status (1974, 1979, 1980), causing its rent-free use of University space to threaten the University’s own tax-exempt status. The University began requiring The Corp to pay rent, nearly bankrupting the company and forcing the newly christened Vital Vittles to merge with the Record Co-op into “Audio Vittles.” In 1981, The Corp won tax-exempt status, as well as a check from the IRS for several years’ back taxes.
Condoms were the focus of The Corp’s first business-related conflict with the University. Four months after Vittles began selling condoms in 1974, the University flexed its muscles. According to Catholic doctrine the use of condoms is immoral, and while the University could not regulate what students did in the privacy of their dorms, it could and would maintain the appearance of propriety in on-campus stores. Faced with two unpleasant choices — give in to the University, or face the virtual death sentence of being thrown off campus — the Directors chose the lesser evil, and caved, formally banning the sale of condoms by Corp stores. The same decision was made with regard to bongs, which Vittles also sold and which the University likewise objected to. (In 1986, the Board reversed the condom ban. However, condoms are still not sold.)
Another dilemma arose when The Corp discovered that one of its vendors, Nestle, was selling baby formula in third world countries that had been prepared with non-potable water. The Board of Directors chose to terminate its relationship with Nestle, making The Corp a participant in what was by then a widespread boycott of Nestle products.
Breaking from the Student Government
The Corp was originally an arm of Student Government, an informal relationship that lasted until 1980, when the Student Body President was became the ex officio Chairman of The Corp’s Board. This created tensions between The Corp’s desire to remain as independent of the University as possible and its parent organization’s close affiliation with the University, and by the early 1990s all formal ties between Student Government and The Corp had been dissolved. The Corp’s four External Board Members (a voting majority of the Board’s seven seats), including the Chair of the Board are now selected from non-Corp employees who choose to apply. They choose the next company officers and service directors from among Corp employees who apply, ensuring that the Georgetown community continues to run its corporation.
Changes are Brewing
Since its founding, The Corp’s core business had been groceries sold by the flagship store, Vital Vittles. In 1994, Uncommon Grounds opened, beginning a decade-long radical transformation in the company’s structure. Uncommon Grounds (UG) was The Corp’s first coffee shop, located in the newly built Leavey Center. It was so successful that More Uncommon Grounds (MUG) was opened five years later in the lobby of ICC. Midnight MUG followed in Lauinger Library after another five years. The completion of the Southwest Quad saw the founding of dormroom-sized convenience store Hoya Snaxa in the breezeway under Kennedy Hall. Together, these four services now account for almost half of The Corp’s annual revenue, and the vast bulk of its operating income.
New Kids on the Block
The Corp’s youngest services are IT (’05), Catering (’09), Ink (’11), and TAG (’11). IT, The Corp’s smallest service, is responsible for maintaining The Corp’s website and Point of Sale system, and finding time- and cost-saving opportunities that increased use of technology yields. Catering, the provider of Georgetown’s best and cheapest catered food and drink, took less than two years to turn a profit and now employs 20 Georgetown students part-time. Corp Ink and TAG (T-shirt Art Graphics) are the brainchildren of IT+Marketing employees. Corp Ink uses The Corp’s industrial-grade printer to provide the cheapest printing services available on campus, or the Georgetown area, for that matter. TAG leverages marketers’ artistic talents and existing relationships with apparel manufacturers to provide T-shirt design and screen-printing services at prices that just can’t be beat.