300 employees will staff Coffman bookstore in first-week rush

Mary Stegmeir

The cashier at register 25 called to a student balancing a stack of textbooks on shaky arms.

“I can help you over here,” she said with a slight smile. She rang up her customer’s purchase in under a minute.

Coffman Union bookstore cashier Erin Busby, a theater senior, is one of 150 employees recently hired in preparation for the biannual book-buying blitz.

The fall semester book rush will be the first test of the 46,000-square-foot superstore’s efficiency and convenience at its new central location.

“It’s been building up for the past couple of days,” Busby said of textbook sales last week.

A need for more space was one reason the giant store opened last spring, replacing smaller stores on the East Bank, West Bank and in Moos Tower, said Bob Crabb, director of University Bookstores.

A “one-stop shop” that sells undergraduate, graduate, professional and distance learning textbooks makes the book-buying process easier, he said.

“It’s a tremendous benefit. If you’re a student, you don’t want to go to different stores and wait in different lines.”

The St. Paul bookstore, which sells books for St. Paul campus courses, and a West Bank shop that houses law school materials, are the only other University bookstores open. Textbooks for St. Paul classes are available at both the St. Paul store and in Coffman Union.

Hayden LaShorne, an early childhood education senior, said she liked buying all her textbooks at one store.

“I see an advantage in that it’s all in one spot. Sometimes (in past years) I didn’t know where all my books were,” she said. “The only disadvantage I see is that there are going to be a lot of people here when school starts trying to find their books.”

Although the consolidation means more students will flock to the same location to purchase books and school supplies, the store is equipped with approximately 60 cash registers to keep wait times to a minimum, Crabb said.

The Williamson Hall bookstore, previously the largest bookstore on campus, had 23 cash registers.

A policy enacted last spring allows students to charge books to their student accounts and will also keep the lines moving, Crabb said. The payment option takes less time to process than paying by check.

“We can swipe their U Card like a credit card. It gets charged like with tuition,” Crabb said.

Crabb said he predicts the bookstore will be busiest from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the first week of class.

Approximately 300 employees will be on hand at times to help students get their books. Crabb said the total number of students shopping at peak times might be in the thousands.

When the store opened in March, University Bookstores were in financial trouble. Crabb and others said they hoped a new location would help reverse lagging sales and an increasing deficit.

“Sales have been very encouraging since the move (but) it’s still going to take time before we know for sure,” he said.

The University will have a clearer picture of how the bookstore is faring after one full semester in business at the student union.

Sales in all departments are up compared to this time last year.

It is still too early in the semester to determine textbook sales, but Crabb is confident they will remain on par with other years.

“We’re selling about the same number of books per student as we were 10 years ago,” Crabb said, adding that he does not feel online booksellers and other competitors pose a serious threat to business.

“If you go to (Amazon.com), you won’t find much of a price break,” he said. “We carry everything and guarantee the correct title. I think that our prices are consistent with the industry as a whole and other college stores.”

Jonathan Peterson, a third-year political science Ph.D. student, said the new bookstore is the kind of facility he would expect to find at a Big Ten university.

“This is a beautiful store. Everything is nice and central,” Peterson said. “For folks that have classes on two or three campuses, this will be a great improvement for them.”