College considers school bookstore

After several years of discussion, the Book Store Advisory Committee has plans to propose a College-owned bookstore on Spring Street, which would open as early as late 2016. “It is much further along in the process than it ever has been,” according to Fred Puddester, vice president for finance and administration.
Alan White, professor of philosophy and chair of the Committee, has planned several campus discussions in December in order to gather feedback and opinions about the proposed store. After listening to the community, the Committee will make a recommendation to the faculty and administration. If these groups approve the proposal, the Committee will bring the plans to the Board of Trustees to determine how to finance the project.

Water Street Books, which is located on the edge of campus, is currently the only on-site place for students to purchase textbooks. The bookstore is jointly owned by the College and Deborah Ann Donavan; the College owns the back section of the store where textbooks are displayed, and has partial ownership of the front part.

“I think there is a consensus that we are a complete outlier when it comes to not having a college bookstore,” Puddester said. “There isn’t one place that students, prospective students, alums and parents can all gather adjacent to campus that has books, college merchandise, perhaps a place to meet and gather with coffee.”

The Committee, which consists of three students and four faculty members, “felt under-served by Water Street [Books]” according to Puddester.
One of the main student concerns is the distance of Water Street Books from the center of campus.

“A new store would most likely be located on or around Spring Street which is much more convenient and accessible,” Jochebed Bogunjoko ’16, one of the students on the Committee, said. “Currently most students only venture near Water Street at the beginning and end of each semester to buy or sell textbooks. We envision the bookstore as a more robust part of the Williams experience…”

Puddester explained that, in the past, Water Street Books has expressed interest in moving to Spring Street. If the proposed bookstore opens, he doesn’t believe it would be viable for Water Street Books to stay open. However, Follet Corporation, which is the current vendor of Water Street Books, is one of the vendors the Committee is considering for the new store.

“They are very interested in being the ones to run the store,” Puddester said.

In addition, according to Puddester, professors believe a College-owned bookstore would allow them to establish more effective communication: “Having a better connection means knowing what the faculty interests are in terms of the research and the books they are writing and the areas they study and teach.”
According to White, the Committee is currently considering “both which vendor to select and what services the College Store should provide.”

Following the model of other college bookstores, the Committee has discussed selling clothing merchandise, books and potentially adding a small coffee or food shop.

Goffs, which has been owned by Bruce Goff since it opened in 1969, is currently the only store where students can purchase Williams gear.
“[The bookstore] would be competition,” Puddester. “I always think competition is a good thing.”

“If the new bookstore does sell apparel then it will offer some competition to Goff’s, which students on the committee hoped would make prices at both merchants, Goff’s especially, more reasonable,” Bogunjoko said.

The Committee is currently in conversation with four potential vendors.

“Last year’s Committee decided to send out a Request for Information (RFI) to see whether there were vendors who considered a Williams College Store to be financially viable,” White said. After receiving responses, he noted that the Committee had requested more information from these vendors, and that “all respondents to the RFP interested in running our college store—including Follett, our current vendor for Water Street Books—agreed that the store should be located on Spring Street.”

The plan for a new bookstore fits in with the College’s plan to revitalize Spring Street, which includes building an inn that would replace the Williamstown Inn and renovating the Log. Puddester noted that such an initiative would bring “more vibrancy to Sprint Street” and help attract prospective students, faculty and “a more diverse set of merchants.”

Puddester explained that “it is tough to be a business on Spring Street” as most students leave Williamstown during the summer. By revitalizing Spring Street, the College hopes to give an incentive for interested merchants.

As for potential locations, the Committee is considering the empty lot on the corner of Walden Street and Spring Street and the building between the Log and Tunnel City.