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Bookstore’s Dilemma

Bookstore’s Dilemma

Lack of Space Dictates Emphasis on Profit vs Service 

By Greg Brothers 

Published on October 27, 1977 

From Yale to UCLA, college bookstores are targets of student anger and frustration. Sadly, the situation is no different here. Forced by a lack of ready cash to charge supplies at the College Store, many students feel that the store is taking advantage of this situation by charging higher prices. Other complaints abound, ranging from store hours to book selections. Hardly a facet of store operations escapes student criticism. 

How many of these complaints are valid? Is the College Store currently meeting the needs of Walla Walla College? What is the purpose of this school operating a bookstore? The issues are complex, but from the murk three major items emerge: space, price and philosophy. 

To put it bluntly, the College Store is too small. Housed in what was College Place’s elementary school, the store lacks adequate display and storage space. This lack of space has been noted by both the Walla Walla College Self-Evaluation Departmental Reports of 1972 and by the college’s reply to the accreditation report. 

One result of the store’s cramped quarters has been higher prices. Forced by a lack of storage space to buy school supplies in small quantities, the store is obliged to pay higher prices. The store then passes these higher prices on to the students. 

Another effect of this has been to limit the selection of books displayed. The last accreditation report noted that the school store needed a larger selection of books for students to browse through. In its reply, the college stated that it had made improvements in this area, but that it was hampered by insufficient space.

Looking: Housed in what was College Place’s elementary school, the store lacks adequate display and storage space. Photo by The Collegian

Several options have been explored to help this situation. One was to renovate the basement of the store, using this space as a display area. This was abandoned due to problems of access. Another was to use the property across the street as a book display center, leaving yard-goods and school supplies in the present location. This was abandoned when the Color Press expanded its operations. Still another suggestion has been that a unified student center be built, combining the clinic, the bookstore and a student union. One problem exists with this idea—money, or rather, a lack of it. 

Whatever solutions are devised, it is clear that the situation cannot continue as it has. In speaking of the College Store, Dr. Lorne Glaim, professor of history, made it very clear that he felt the cause of problems was not the management of the store but a lack of space. 

Another issue, one more central to the thinking of students, is that of prices. How do our bookstore’s prices compare with those of Whitman College, or Walla Walla Community College?  

While the question needs more study, I think that some generalizations can be made from the price comparisons quoted. In general, it would seem that prices at our college store are higher than those for Whitman or Walla Walla Community College. It would seem that student complaints in this area are justified.  

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While checking prices, one interesting fact did come up: in order to compete with larger stores, Walla Walla Community College discounts all school supplies 10%, despite their having storage space problems also.  

The key issue, however, is one of philosophy: what is the purpose of the College Store. As it now stands, the store’s purpose is to make a profit. If one accepts this philosophy, one can hardly find fault with the store’s practices. According to Mr. Richard Beck, Vice President for Financial Affairs of the college, last year the store reported a gross profit of $501,513, with a net profit of $43,974. As Mr. Beck stated, and the Self-Evaluation Reports confirmed, “the profits from the bookstore go into the general operating fund, thus helping to keep tuition costs down. 

Some find fault with this philosophy. One professor stated that the issue is one of “students versus profits.” He felt that the store should be a place where you knew that you were getting the best prices on school supplies. To some, the best way the store could serve students would be by keeping prices as low as possible. 

Space, prices, philosophy—these three words sum up most of the controversy surrounding the College Store. The controversy is an important one. When an organization such as Phi-Beta-Kappa looks into the intellectual life of a school, the library and the bookstore are the first things checked. As Dr. Glaim noted, the heart of a liberal-arts college, such as Walla Walla, is its library and its bookstore. 

In researching this article, I was not able to contact Mrs. Kathryn Wohlers, the manager of the College Store. It is my hope that I will be able to interview her, as soon as she is back on campus.

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