by Lauren Eller
After five years of success, bookstore manager Jim Huang is leaving. On May 9, he will leave to assume the role of director of the bookstore at Bryn Mawr College, so that he can be closer to his family.
“The appeal to this was that it’s a lot closer to where my parents live, and my parents are at an age where they need more help than I’ve been able to do here,” Huang said. “It’s nine hours away right now; it’ll be two hours away there.” Huang was not actively looking for a position elsewhere, but read about the opening at the Pennsylvania liberal arts college in an email newsletter.
During Huang’s tenure, Kenyon’s bookstore made a profit, remained independent and changed how it handled textbooks. “He helped with pricing, sourcing, putting books on the shelves, anything and everything that involved textbooks,” Book Associate Darlene Russell said. “I will miss him there for sure.” Russell has worked with Huang for several years.
Huang said he is excited for his new position, the variety it will bring and how he will be helping the new store transition from being run by the chain Follett to an independent operation.
“The Bryn Mawr job will be interesting; it’ll be challenging,” Huang said. “It has been part of a chain, but things have not gone well under the chain, so they are becoming independent again, which I love. … It kind of says something about the value and importance of being independent and staying independent, and how independence can serve a community much better than some distant chain.”
As for plans for the future operation of Kenyon’s bookstore, a contract with a nationwide company such as Barnes and Noble is not being considered, according to Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman.
The College considered a deal with Barnes and Noble during the the 2006-2007 academic year — a deal that did pan out.
Huang added that Barnes and Noble’s proposed hours did not align well with what the College desired, and that being independent allows the store to accept K-Cards and process packages — services a chain might not be able to provide. Kohlman said the College would remain independent as it searches for Huang’s replacement.
The bookstore has been financially successful during Huang’s tenure. Huang said that when he saw an opening at Kenyon’s bookstore advertised in 2009, the economy was doing poorly, and the bookstore barely broke even. But for the past two fiscal years (those ending in 2013 and 2014), it made a profit: 2.8 percent ($67,000) and 0.89 percent ($23,000), respectively. The profits were put toward scholarships and a capital reserve to maintain the store, for things such as necessary repairs.
“Jim has done a fantastic job of stabilizing the financial situation of the store in the last two years, three years,” Kohlman said.
Huang attributes the bookstore’s success to its ability to provide an array of services — something that chain bookstores cannot do because their model does not adapt well.
“Because we’ve been really creative about finding used books, using online marketplaces, sourcing them one by one, being better at buyback … it has allowed some professors to stay with the old editions that they want to stay with,” Huang said. “If we can stay with the old edition, we can save students a lot of money.”
Huang said working at Kenyon’s bookstore has given him the opportunity to be inventive in his role, by helping organize events like the Bookstore Olympiad and designing creative displays at the front of the store, and he hopes to bring the same flair for innovation to his position at Bryn Mawr.
“This is really a special bookstore,” he said. “I don’t know if everyone appreciates that every day. I mean, we use it, we walk in and out of it, but, you know, if you go across the country and you look at college bookstores … it’s just incredible what we accomplish here, and what we’re able to do.”