Mad rush at U bookstores a biannual student tradition

Travis Reed

Anne McAlpine has been at work for an eternity in just under two hours.
“Today is the worst day. It’s a mad rush to get books,” said McAlpine, a cashier at Student Book Store, as she peered out from a partitioned redoubt of formica, candy displays, and glass casing to gesture for the next customer to step forward.
She takes care to greet every new face kindly while methodically reminding each patron of the store’s return policy, a reliable refuge for the capriciously ambitious collegian.
From her perch in the cashier fortress, McAlpine was insulated from the boiling sea of meandering students rifling through stacks of text for their books. This harried bi-annual ritual has become a regular fact of life for University students.
“We make almost all of our sales in the first 4-5 days of the semester,” said Mark Hepler, Student Book Store manager, as he rearranged a shelf of particularly thick, ominous-looking tomes of academia.
Bob Crabb, director of Williamson Hall bookstore, said about half of their sales come in January and September. To cope with the rush, Williamson and the Student Book Store both staff police officers to maintain order.
“In the past it’s been semi-awful, but this semester we’ve got lots of great people,” Hepler said, adding that even though a large number of his employees were inexperienced, they’d acquire veteran status after this week.
Amber Shields, a sophomore French student who’s worked at the bookstore for two weeks, said most of the patrons were amiable even though many were subjected to long waits in line during the current rush.
“They seem to know it’s going to be a long wait,” Shields said.
Chris Neugent is a true veteran of the bookstore business. Now a University alumnus, Neugent worked at the Student Book Store from 1992-1996 while he was attending school. He returned to the bookstore last October because he needed a part-time job to supplement his schedule as a William Mitchell law school student.
“Retail is hell,” Neugent said. “But it’s not as bad as it used to be.”
Neugent attributes the shift from belligerent to complacent customers to a parallel change in the University’s focus: from a research-based institution to a more student-oriented university.
Andy Holm, a senior chemistry major, is one of the new breed. Holm said he found his books with no problems and waited in line for about five minutes. When he finally reached the register, Holm executed the exchange impassively and expressed little disdain for the process.
“It’s kind of a pain sometimes, but I always find my books somewhere. I kind of expect it to be busy,” Holm said.

Travis Reed welcomes comments at [email protected]