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UMass expands UCard use to Amherst, Hadley restaurants

AMHERST — Students, faculty and staff at the University of Massachusetts can more easily shop and dine at Amherst-area businesses this fall.

The UCard program, which already serves as the campus meal plan for students, is expanding beyond the campus and will be welcome initially at more than a dozen restaurants in Amherst and Hadley.

Tony Maroulis, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, said businesses have responded enthusiastically to widening the scope of the UCard.

“Everyone is looking at this as a real opportunity,” Maroulis said.

Maroulis said the promise of more student activity is something all businesses welcome, especially those in downtown where the Business Improvement District has emphasized its partnership with the university. This has included both the Adventure into Amherst, during New Student Orientation, and the Celebrate Amherst Block Party earlier this month.

Nancy Buffone, executive director of external relations and university events at UMass, said in a statement that broadening the UCard meets two goals.

“We believe this will strengthen the relationship the university enjoys with the local business community and it will provide our students, faculty and staff a new level of convenience,” Buffone said.

Besides the campus meal plan, the UCard for students also acts as a library card, a dormitory key and a ticket for sporting events. UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said this means adding the capacity of using the UCard as a debit card.

“This gives the student an opportunity to use discretionary funds more easily in town,” Blaguszewski said. “It’s a good opportunity for merchants to connect with students and promote and grow their businesses.”

Businesses have expressed concern about losing student customers.

Maroulis said the UCard goes beyond what the Our Campus Meal Plan once did. While several businesses participated, it was not mandatory for students to have the meal plan card and in recent years its participation rates diminished as the quality of food on campus improved.

Town Manager John Musante said it is a welcome development for UMass officials to update and modernize the UCard.

“This is part of encouraging students to spend time and do business in downtown Amherst,” Musante said.

Already, Amherst Brewing Company, the Newman Center Café and The Sub and Pizza of Amherst are participating, and 13 additional businesses are expected to join, including Antonio’s, Blake Sheep Deli and White Hut in Amherst and the Route 9 Diner in Hadley.

Barry Roberts, president of the Amherst Business Improvement District, said the expansion of the UCard was something sought by the BID directors and he appreciates that UMass, which is a member of the BID, is living up to this commitment.

“Our members are very excited about this,” Roberts said.

Staff and faculty members with UCard debit accounts can also use the service. The UCard will be treated the same as debit card transactions.

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