Section: Features

Open floor, familiar tables behind exterior of new bookstore

Open floor, familiar tables behind exterior of new bookstore

First impressions: Between the two remaining ends of Farr Hall’s red brick facade, the new Kenyon Bookstore is a conspicuous building. It is an unmistakably Gund creation, with its creamy coat of paint and large windows, like Lentz House viewed through some sort of elongating glass.

Inside, immediately to one’s left, are books. This is refreshing, and for some reason a bit surprising. In the store’s temporary location, which it occupied last semester during construction, the fiction section was relegated to two shelves near the snacks, a kind of afterthought, it seemed — a nod to the idea of a bookstore.

The new bookstore’s set-up encourages browsing. There is plenty of seating as one enters the space, and while the original bookstore had a lot of walls, the new bookstore is open. It feels inviting. It’s a place you want to stay in.

In general, people at Kenyon seem to resist change, and the new space, which held its Grand Opening on March 22, has its critics. The main accusation is that it looks like a Barnes and Noble; it is too sterile, too open.

I get where the dissidents are coming from. It’s true that when I think about independent bookstores, like those in my hometown of San Francisco, I tend to imagine cramped, closet-like spaces, which look more like  treasure troves than  stores.

But a college bookstore does not serve the same purpose as a commercial bookstore. In some ways, it serves a greater purpose, especially in remote Gambier, where the downtown strip must accommodate many needs. The bookstore must sell books, yes, but it must also provide space for students to study, or snacks if they are hungry. It must offer spots for the community to gather. The best thing about the new bookstore is that it seems equipped to bring people together.

This is exactly what the bookstore staff hopes will happen.

As Heather Petersen, the bookstore’s sales floor supervisor and apparel buyer, put it, “The tradition of the college bookstore is that this is a communal space, one for students as well as people coming in from out of town to get a scoop of ice cream.”

General Manager Angus MacDonell, for one, is excited. When the staff moved in over spring break, with the help of seven students, he said he couldn’t wait for everyone to come back on campus. 

“We miss it when you guys are on break,” he said.

He and the staff conserved all the old furniture from their old space. In the sleek new building, the old wooden study tables feel like a nod to the store’s past. The staff even saved the potted plants from their old location.

There is another upside of the renovation, in MacDonell’s opinion: To him it is a guarantee on the part of the administration that the store will remain independent. Kenyon’s bookstore is part of a dying breed; most college bookstores are owned by a couple of larger companies (one of which is Barnes and Noble).

Now that the College has invested in the renovation, Angus believes the future of the store is safe.

“They’ve put so much into it,” he said. “Other colleges would make the company do the renovation.”

Now, with the library set to be torn down, having the space is a relief.

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