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January 27, 2012

Smoothies spark social life at the gym

The Ratner Athletic Center is undoubtedly the center for physical activity on campus, regardless of what fans of the Henry Crown Field House might say. It’s where the offices of the athletic administration are located, it’s where the Everyman goes to work out, and it’s where most of our varsity athletic teams play. Ratner hasn’t changed much since it was first constructed in 2000, a testament to the vision of the people who built it. It was done correctly from the start, so there hasn’t been much to improve on.

This quarter, however, to the delight of fruit lovers everywhere, the Athletic Administration decided to open a Jamba Juice near the main entrance of Ratner. The goals of the new establishment were relatively simple according to head athletic director Tom Weingartner: “We had designed space to provide some modest food and drink for our members and create a more social space within the Ratner lobby.” So far, it’s safe to say that Jamba has been a success in that regard.

Even in its architectural design, Ratner encourages sociability, from the wide-open atrium entrance to the liberal use of glass instead of drywall. The minute you walk into the gym, you can already see people working out on treadmills and ellipticals. Once you get past the front gate, there’s basketball to your left and weightlifting to your right. Ratner’s plethora of options encourages those who want to work out, no what form of exercise they prefer.

Jamba, like the atriums and the glass walls, encourages sociability. When you’re done with your workout, you’re usually rushing home to get something to refuel. Having Jamba Juice nearby means that instead of heading to your apartment or your dorm immediately, you’re hanging out with the friends you just made working out.

Personally, I love the idea of having a place where casual and serious athletes alike can gather after a hard workout. A lot of the time, I’ll learn the names of guys I’m playing basketball with, but as soon as the game is over, I don’t talk to them again. The bonds of friendship that we make are only temporary. I’m not saying that having a smoothie joint inside Ratner is going to ameliorate this situation completely, but at the very least it’s a step toward getting people to talk to their fellow athletes as they relax after a hard workout.

Maybe it won’t always happen like this, but it only takes one instance of a group deciding to slow down and grab smoothies to make Jamba Juice valuable. It might not be a financially profitable model, but having this option available to students is definitely worth whatever it costs to keep Jamba.

“[It is] yet to be seen,” said Weingartner, when asked whether or not Jamba has been a successful endeavor for the University. “We have had other vendors in that space and it has not worked out. We hope that Jamba Juice will be a success in providing food, drink, and a social opportunity for our users.”

Jamba is even starting to encourage people to come to Ratner when they aren’t working out. Maclean House has been known to take house trips to Jamba this quarter, as Ratner is now the closest food stop on campus for the northernmost dorm. With all the work being done to make the south side of campus a student-friendly environment, the administration shouldn’t forget about the students that live north of 55th Street. Jamba Juice is a good step in that direction. Students should be hoping for Jamba Juice’s success, because its thriving would probably mean more food establishments like it in that section of the campus.

While it is great that people are now visiting Ratner on a more casual basis, they shouldn’t forget the primary reason they’re at Ratner, however: to work out. Where Jamba Juice becomes a problem is when people go to Ratner to “work out,” really just wanting to put in five minutes of walking on the elliptical in order to have an excuse to get a smoothie. This might be good for Jamba’s bank account, but it’s not good for the people who already have a hard time motivating themselves to work out. Luckily, Jamba is tucked away in the corner, another good move by the administration. If you walk into Ratner without really looking around, you can barely tell it’s there.

Ultimately, building a Jamba Juice at Ratner represents a commitment on the part of the athletic department to making the recreational athletic experience as enjoyable as possible. And that’s not a fruity proposition at all.

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