Campus store to be replaced with Student Life Hub

BY MADELINE SKRAK '18

After this semester, the Blanchard Campus Store will be no more. After Reunion II — which falls during the last weekend of May — the store will be closed permanently and its space will be converted into a Student Life Hub as part of the new Community Center’s construction. The spirit apparel and Mount Holyoke- printed items will be sold at the Odyssey Bookstore in the Village Commons.

“It’ll be all there and in place in the fall,” said Shannon Gurek, the vice president for finance and administration and treasurer of Mount Holyoke College. Gurek, who devoted the majority of her four years at Mount Holyoke to getting the facility and Community Center master plans moving, said that the initiative is now accelerating at “lightning speed.”

According to the Mount Holyoke website, the Student Life Hub will provide shared space for advising, residential life, student government, religious life and diversity programming. The website states that the Student Life Hub will lead to “enhanced information sharing, better planning for students’ needs, heightened awareness of community issues and more opportunities for community celebrations of achievements.” This space will include conference rooms, private office space and open areas for staff and students to meet and plan.

Follett Bookstore Management’s contract expired with the College last year, but Mount Holyoke extended it another year as they finished plans for Blanchard. Originally the Blanchard Campus Store was run by Brennan College Services, but was then purchased by Follett, according to Encyclopedia.com.

The decision to move the store and transition to a different vendor was made by a small committee, which Gurek oversees. Gurek explained that the reason behind the store closing is the renovation of Blanchard and the addition to the Community Center, “When we were planning, we were talking about the highest and best use of the space in the building. We’re trying to get a ‘one-stop shopping’ space around student life issues.” When thinking about where the new store would go, Gurek said that the Village Commons immediately came to mind.

“We have a long relationship with the Odyssey for textbook sales. They’ve wanted to take over spirit-wear for merchandise. It seemed like the right time to give them the opportunity, because it’s tough to be a small independent bookstore — they’re closing up all over the place,” said Gurek.

According to their website, Follett is the country’s largest operator of college bookstores, serving 5 million students nationwide and providing textbooks, fan gear and gifts that represent over 1,200 colleges and universities in the United States, including Notre Dame, Stanford, Baylor, Villanova and Arizona State University.

Follett doesn’t own or rent the store’s space in Blanchard, but rather pays the College for the opportunity to sell their merchandise through a licensing agreement for items like school spirit-wear, imprinted gifts, essentials, caps and gowns, snacks and school supplies. Follett must remove all contents from the store space in the first few days of June, because renovation construction on the second and third floor of Blanchard will commence a few days later.

This is a similar arrangement to what the Odyssey will have with their contract starting June. The Odyssey will use the summer as a soft opening and will be ready for students in the fall for their official opening.

Emily Crowe and Joan Grenier, the store’s manager and owner respectively, have been traveling around Massachusetts visiting other college bookstores to get advice about trends, brand appeal, merchandising opportunities and about which sales representatives they will reach out to and create accounts with.

“We want to do this new job well, so we’re doing our homework,” said Crowe, because there are a lot of differences between the book industry, “which we know well,” and what it will be like to work with vendors for things like apparel, mugs, keychains and lanyards.

Crowe explained that the staff is still negotiating the contract with the College, but will officially be taking over the MHC merchandise this summer.

“We are tremendously excited about expanding that part of our business and especially the new opportunities it will provide to work with both the student and the alumni communities,” said Crowe.

Caps and gowns are ordered through Follett through a third party provider, so this job will be directed to the Odyssey in the future. The Odyssey is still working out how they will carry the essential items that the current campus store carries, such as cosmetics and snacks. They are meeting with an independent bookstore consultant to talk about the build out and redesign of the store to accommodate the new items. Crowe says to “stay tuned” for this. Gurek said that eventually there may be a “vending sort of solution,” with machines in Blanchard to get convenience items like this.

Until the Odyssey takes over, the current store will sell as much as they can and continue through their end date. Judy Nawoj, a current employee at the store who has worked there for 18 years, says that during the Commencement and Reunion weekends, the merchandise is usually “cleared out.” If there is any remaining apparel or imprinted MHC items, they will be sold back to the school.

Laurie Lombardi is another of the 7 Follett employees at the store. Lombardi tried to retire in 2013, but then returned for reunion and “had to come back,” because she missed it.

Lombardi has worked at the campus store for the last 20 years and remembers when it used to be on the bottom floor of Blanchard, next to the old student mailboxes. “Of course they got more mail at the time. They would scream when they got acceptances or LSAT scores. We had cards, trade books, full textbook rooms, sold the majority of textbooks with huge stockrooms and used to rent refrigerators," said Lombardi. 

Back then, she said, they sold “real velvet hoods” for graduation gowns for $5 that "flew out of here."

Nawoj said they even had students drop off their film and the store offered photo developing. Starting in the fall, the space will be converted yet again. “The top two levels of Blanch will be renovated and ready to go in their new form and it’s almost like a tiered opening of the new Community Center,” said Gurek.

Another shift will be the mailboxes. Currently all first years get their mail in Auxiliary Services, which “was a test run,” according to Gurek. In place of the mailboxes that remain in Blanch will be a unity center. Gurek explains this will be a place where “people can come together to talk about different subjects and about how to unify and work together and think about different conversations or topics.”

Although Gurek is excited for what the Community Center will offer the campus, she admits it will be weird to separate with the Follett staff and that it was a difficult decision to make. Gurek says that there will definitely be some sort of “farewell and thank you event” for the current employees.

Each time students were asked about the store closing, they were surprised. When asked how they feel about the Blanchard Campus Store closing, Jadah Quick ’17 and Nyasha Franklin ’19 both exclaimed, “What!?”

They were shocked by the news. Quick’s first reaction was to respond with more questions on where students will get essential items. Although she’s never bought apparel at the school, she’s often taken advantage of the $1 notebooks and cosmetics since she doesn’t have a car to drive to other stores.

“It makes sense for what the school is trying to do with the new initiative for Super Blanch and the inclusive student environment they want to give us. The store does take up a lot of space,” said Quick.

Franklin’s reaction was immediate worry for the where the current employees will go after the store closes, especially since “they are so faithful to our institution.”

“The school should secure them jobs, because of how long they’ve been working here,” Franklin added.

Judy hopes to find another job through Follett in the area. Laurie says that she has enough grandchildren to keep her busy.

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