New owner at Student Book Store

New owner Charlie Ward currently owns bookstores at two other universities.

On Friday, a popular buy-or-sell bookstore for thousands of University students will change hands but remain much intact.

Mark Hepler sat in his cramped office inside the Student Book Store last week, talking about the Dinkytown business he’s owned for nearly 20 years.

Despite the ownership change, Hepler and the new owner said employees will be retained, the business will remain open and students will still be able to use the Dinkytown store.

Hepler said the store has employed approximately 2,000 University students and sold approximately 1.2 million books in the time he’s owned it.

“If you were to pile them up on top of each other,” they’d form a pretty high tower, he said.

Hepler is selling the store to Charlie Ward, who lives in St. Cloud, Minn., and owns two other off-campus college bookstores – at St. Cloud State University and Bemidji State University.

One of Hepler’s “personal favorite” stories from the bookstore is the time a sport utility vehicle came barreling through the front window during spring break 2000.

“I was in the back of the store, and I heard this loud crash,” he said. “I just couldn’t imagine what had happened.”

Hepler said the motorist had been driven off the road and into the store.

“I ran to the front, and right at that front window was the grill of an SUV,” Hepler said. “I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw that there was no one on the sidewalk.”

Hepler said that during the years, shoplifting has been constantly problematic but was mostly committed by professional thieves, stealing books to sell them illegally.

He said he has caught employees stealing before but never any long-term workers, usually just temporary ones.

Both Ward and Hepler said current employees will stay on staff.

Nick Remus, a 2004 architecture graduate who has worked at the bookstore since 2000, said he stayed on so long because of the atmosphere.

“You have a bunch of students working here,” he said. “So it’s pretty laid back.”

Remus said he still needs a job, so he doesn’t see himself leaving quite yet.

“It’s exciting to start up again and to see how the new owner is going to do things differently,” Remus said.

Ward said he doesn’t “foresee the need for wholesale change of any kind.”

“You probably won’t notice a change, except that there will be a short-term reduction in the inventory that’s there,” Ward said. “After we’re in there a year, we may do some remodeling if we can get a long-term lease signed.”

He said they don’t plan on having any shutdown time, so students will still be able to use the bookstore while it is transitioning between owners.

Ward said they will try to meet students’ needs in the way the store always has, if not exceed them.

“I think what’s important for the students (is that) it will continue to be a strong secondary source for students to buy and sell books,” he said. “We’ll try to have it be a real service-oriented business, even more than what it is today.”