At the Vassar Student’s Association (VSA) Council meeting on Sunday, Feb. 23, VSA President Deb Steinberg ’14 announced plans for the College’s VP of Finance, Bob Walton, to propose a new bookstore for the College that would operate in place of the Barnes & Noble Bookstore currently on campus. The plan also recommends the possibility of moving the new bookstore off campus to the former location of Juliet Theater to allow for more space in the College Center for students and faculty.
“I have put forward a proposal, which may or may not receive approval, that Vassar align with other independent college stores throughout the country and operate the Vassar College store as an independent store and textbook service to be affiliated with the 3,000+ members of the National Association of College Stores (NACS),” said Walton in an emailed statement. “The primary goal of the overall project is to provide a better store and textbook service for students, faculty, staff and alumnae/i of the College.”
Student Kate Hennessey ’16 was optimistic about the plan. “That’s awesome. I think this will really help with textbook costs,” she said.
The plan itself, which will be reviewed by the Board of Trustees at this weekend’s meeting, recommends that Vassar College not pursue a renewal of its contract with Barnes & Noble College, a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble that operates college bookstores in more than 650 colleges and universities in the United States. Barnes & Noble has been in control of the campus bookstore since July 2000, and sells not just textbooks to the campus but also Vassar-related merchandise, school supplies and other retail items.
Since the summer of 2013, Vassar has been out of contract with Barnes & Noble College, but operating in good faith with the company to continue running the bookstore while a new contract is negotiated. Walton had a number of meetings with Barnes & Noble College representatives regarding contract renewal, but was not satisfied with what was offered. The new five-year contract proposed by Barnes and Noble included a significant reduction in financial terms to the College, though Walton noted concern of Barnes & Noble College’s ability to provide Vassar students the option to purchase books online and other more progressive textbook and college store practices.
The Barnes & Noble proposal also eliminates the consideration of union labor for staffing the bookstore, something Walton with which expressed concern. The College can still choose between the Barnes & Noble contract and a contract with an independent bookstore.
There is also a proposition with the bookstore to move it out of the basement of the College Center and instead locate it in the former Juliet Theater property, a vacant storefront on the corner of Raymond & Collegeview Ave. that is owned by the College through its subsidiary, College Properties LLC. Although this is part of his recommendation, Walton said there is no guarantee that even with a new bookstore, the location will be moved off campus.
“In fairness to all concerned, this strategy does carry some financial risks and needs to be properly explored and vetted to determine if those risks are too great,” he said. It remains part of the recommendation, though it is something that may be excluded even if a new independent bookstore is created. Should the bookstore be moved into the Juliet Theater, it would require a renovation that would not only create a new bookstore space, but also a large café space that a vendor could fill. This would also vacate space in the College Center, much-desired by students and faculty.
The discussion of a new location for the bookstore has been ongoing for some time before this latest proposal came forward. Last March, former VP of Administration & Finance Betsy Eismeier issued an email to the campus discussing the future of the Barnes & Noble bookstore and its space on campus.
At the time, a similar proposal was made to move the bookstore off campus to the former location of Juliet Theater; however, Barnes & Noble was unable to proceed for a number of reasons. In that proposal, Barnes & Noble, not the College, would have been responsible for renovating and managing the space, as well as accommodating the creation of a café on the premise. Though it was dicussed greatly last year, there has yet to be any recent discussion on how this move would affect local businesses in the area beyond campus, such as the Three Arts bookstore, with the current proposal.
In an emailed statement, Steinberg noted her faith in this project’s success, as well as the additional plan of moving the future bookstore to the former Juliet Theater. “I am definitely in favor of it. The move will provide students with much-needed centralized space on campus and open up new opportunities for bridging the gap between Vassar and the greater community. I think the Board will support it as well.”
Although it is the Board of Trustees that will ultimately decide what course of action to take, Walton reaffirms that it was the job of Vassar Administration to propose the best course of action. “The Trustees rely on the administration to plan and implement these types of programs for the College,” he said.
For now, students will not know the fate of the campus bookstore until after this weekend’s Trustee meeting. Specific details about what services the bookstore will provide, a specific timeline for implementation, and other information is not yet available.