Textbook store bringing in extra revenue for college

By Amy Lieberman

Macalester’s textbook store may not offer the oversized armchairs and colorful window displays that Barnes and Noble does, but it still has gold bookracks from Ruminator Books, the bookstore on Grand Ave. that closed nearly two years ago. “I like to joke with people,” textbook store manager Carey Starr said, “If you get me, you get the gold racks. If you get the gold racks, you get me.”

And on these gold racks lie textbooks, which despite their skyrocketing prices, are quite distinctly not made of gold.

Since Ruminator went out of business, Macalester’s textbook store has established itself as students’ locale of choice for textbook purchases. But the store’s drab physical site has yet to reflect its expensive merchandise, which corresponds with the nationally increasing prices on textbooks.

“I receive complaints from students all the time,” Starr said. “But I think that what we charge students is fair. It isn’t going much above the base cost, if at all.”

Before working at the textbook store, Starr was the manager at Ruminator, a general bookstore that also provided Macalester students with textbooks, for 33 years. When its finances began to suffer, some of the textbooks were moved to the second floor of the Macalester owned Lampert Building on Snelling Ave. And when Ruminator later went bankrupt, Starr officially reestablished herself and her business in what now is Macalester’s textbook store.

“It was not a conscious switch to make a profit,” Director of Business and Administrative Services Doug Rosenberg said. “It was just that the Ruminator is no longer here and we need to provide a service of textbooks to our students. What do we do? We had a space.”

As Ruminator was an independent establishment, Macalester did not share any of its profits when students purchased their textbooks there. The Macalester owned textbook store, on the other hand, has provided the college with $215,000 this school year.

Though this appears a seemingly small amount of money in the realm of the college’s general expenses, Rosenberg said that the extra cash is useful.

“If we don’t get the revenue from one area, we will just have to turn to another,” he said. “We are able to offer more programs for students because we have this revenue stream.”

Rosenberg also explained that if the college gives its students more of a discount on textbook costs, the school would have to cut other expenses. And if tuition were raised, financial aid costs would also increase. “It’s all part of the balance,” he said.

Georgia Faust ’08 questioned the college’s right to make a profit off of textbook sales. At the very least, she explained, the textbook store should exist as a legitimate bookstore. “If they had something like the Ruminator,” she said, “that would be one thing. But this isn’t a real store. It’s just this weird place you have to go to.”

Though Rosenberg said he thinks the textbooks are regularly priced, and noted the store’s continuing effort to buy used books, he said that there is always something cheaper out there.

Alexis Goffe ’06 has caught onto this notion and mostly shops online for his textbooks. He even asks his professors in advance for his courses’ syllabi, so he can order his books well in advance from Amazon. “You can find them much, much cheaper online,” he said. “The used books especially are far more expensive than the used books you can find online.”

Faust also prefers to order her textbooks online, but for quality reasons.

“Whenever I do get a book at the textbook store they are all in really bad condition and written up inside,” she said. “They charge the same amount for all used books. They don’t have a scale for their conditions.”

And then there is the bookstore’s appearance, which, with its bare white walls and basic merchandise aside from textbooks, doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

“People come to visit campus and want to see a bookstore,” Rosenberg said. “They give you a look of, Is this it?' orAre you remodeling?”

Starr also admitted that the textbook store could use some renovating, perhaps, but also questioned the importance of the store’s aesthetics. “I’d love to make it look like a real bookstore,” she said, “but I don’t know if we should spend the money on it. We should put the effort instead into figuring something out for the future.”

Rosenberg is in the process of drafting a document that would outline space requirements for a bookstore, which would combine Highlander and the textbook store. “It’d be a retail operation where you could bring textbooks, New York Times best sellers and sweatshirts to the checkout counter,” he said. The plans remain loose, though, and will most likely unfold slowly.

“If it was my decision, I would have liked to have a bookstore from day one,” he said. “But it’s not like there is an emergency and there is a rush to have it now. It’s just an idea.