By Graham Reid
Due to electronic versions of texts, and online rental and retail companies like Amazon.com, college bookstores can often feel a tremendous squeeze. In the last fiscal year, however, Kenyon’s Bookstore managed to come out $67,700 ahead, according to Bookstore Manager Jim Huang. $50,000 of the profit will be reserved in an account for Bookstore capital expenditures, while the remaining $17,700 will go to a scholarship fund.
Huang indicated that this profit was no small feat. “There’s a huge amount of competition; we see ourselves in a very competitive environment,” he said.
Additionally, the Bookstore provides costly services to the College. The Bookstore processes student packages, works to keep the K-Card system running and serves as “the College’s information desk,” according to Huang. “We do a lot of things that are not revenue-generating for the campus,” he said.
Although providing some of these services has proved less than lucrative, the store has cut costs in recent years by reducing its summer hours and shifting some of its employees from full to part time.
Huang also pointed to a popular, recently expanded apparel selection.
Apparel sales are up 16 percent in the first quarter of this fiscal year. Although text sales are down slightly by two percent in the first quarter of this year, Huang maintains the Bookstore is still strong on pricing.
“Our textbook pricing has gotten more competitive,” he said. “We’re never going to match prices across the board, but I think we’ve come closer, and that’s helped.”
To be more competitive in an era of rapidly changing prices and online-comparison shopping, Huang said that his staff has had to remain on its toes.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “We look at new products constantly. We look at clearing out old things that aren’t selling any more.”
Along with the focus on texts typical of any college bookstore, the Kenyon store provides many products students would not have access to in other college stores. “We want to be the general store, we want to have everything that you need to get through the day or week or month,” Huang said.
John Lyons ’17 purchased household items, including light bulbs, in addition to his school supplies and textbooks at the Bookstore. “It’s a good basic selection,” Lyons said. “It’s enough for me.”
The merits of Kenyon’s Bookstore are more than just its stock, according to Huang.
“We’re accessible to the street,” he said. “A lot of bookstores are in the basement of a students’ center; that’s not us, we’re right here. The community, folks from the community walk in here than a lot more often than would be common at a lot of other college bookstores.”
The age of Kenyon’s Bookstore also gives it distinction. The Bookstore was first proposed in a letter from Philander Chase to his brother in 1825, according to the College’s website. This makes Kenyon’s store the oldest continuously operating college bookstore in America, and the nation’s third oldest bookstore overall.
Even with last year’s success, the future of the Bookstore is still uncertain. Many colleges and universities have turned to corporations like Barnes and Noble to run their bookstores. This arrangement was once considered at Kenyon, albeit before Huang’s time as manager of the store.
Though he doesn’t think ill of corporate bookstores on the whole, Huang pointed out the auxiliary functions of the Bookstore, saying “we provide a lot of services … that none of those folks would do” and that such a change away from the store’s current state “would be a tragedy.”
The Bookstore is working on implementing a rental system and identifying cases where rental makes more sense than buying and reselling. Currently, the college bookstores at the fellow Five Colleges of Ohio ﾗ Oberlin College, Denison University, Ohio Wesleyan University, and the College of Wooster ﾗ offer some form of rental service.
Huang stressed the Bookstore is open to ideas about how to adapt. “If there’s a product that a student wants and you don’t see it on our shelves, please come tell us,” he said. “We love suggestions, we love ideas, we’re very open; we’re here to serve you, that’s all we’re here for.”