Perhaps it’s understandable that Nat Dance, owner of Club 534, and Virginia Commonwealth University don’t have the coziest of relationships. Through the years Dance has battled VCU over his liquor license and student safety, all while rejecting various offers from the university to sell his nightclub on Harrison Street.
But the latest development has left Dance puzzled, he says. Late last month, club representatives were informed that 534’s request to participate in VCU’s RamBucks program was rejected.
RamBucks is the stored-value card program created for students that allows them to make purchases at participating retailers without using cash. Participating businesses include dozens of near-campus restaurants, including Chipotle, Crossroads Coffee and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
But it was decided that Club 534 wasn’t an appropriate addition to the roster of approved merchants, according to emails sent by Matthew Bogner, senior director of merchant services for CBORD, the company VCU contracts to administer RamBucks.
In an emailed response, VCU spokeswoman Anne Buckley writes that one of the conditions of the university’s agreement with CBORD is that it “not include merchants that principally sell alcohol, tobacco, professional services or obscene materials.”
But a glance at the list of participating merchants reveals that at least two local restaurants in the program do serve alcohol — 3rd Street Diner and Mulligan’s Sports Grille.
Dance says that Club 534 doesn’t serve alcohol between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. And after completing renovations to the property, he’d hoped to attract more students to the recently opened cafe for lunch. The RamBucks rejection is a stumbling block, he says.
“To me it’s like this is just another thing they’re doing to force me out,” he says. “They’re saying they’re concerned about alcohol, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”