Bookin’ it

April 29, 2015 by The Williams Record Editorial Board

In light of the Faculty Bookstore Committee’s ongoing decision-making process, we at the Record would like to examine the possibility of a college bookstore on Spring Street. While the creation of a college bookstore is arguably not an urgent or imperative step for the College to take, we believe the bookstore could be both an economic boon to the College and an improvement on campus life. However, these positive outcomes hinge on the College exercising caution and consideration in its implementation of the bookstore, specifically when examining the store’s potential impact on the Williamstown community.

The College’s current book-buying system is not pressingly defective. Water Street Books is not an especially long walk from the center of campus, and many students who are not on the book grant order some or all of their books online anyway, forgoing the bookstore for added convenience and often much lower prices.

Creating a college bookstore on Spring Street could, however, greatly improve our current, somewhat unimpressive system. Though Water Street is not miles away, students nonetheless tend to only frequent the bookstore when absolutely necessary: once at the beginning of the semester and once at the end. Moving the bookstore to the very central and popular location of Spring Street would surely increase students’ visits and purchases, as well as those of faculty, staff, community members and tourists, thereby increasing the store’s (and the College’s) profits. Additionally, operating through Follet, the company that currently supplies the College’s textbooks, would not only ensure continuity and greater ease in the transition between bookstores, but would also further the College’s economic gains through the store. Sticking with Follet will bring in money, while switching to a smaller, independent provider would lose it. Furthermore, Follet would hire its own employees, creating jobs, albeit not a huge number, for residents of Williamstown and its surrounding areas.

The college bookstore would also likely sell College apparel and might include a coffee shop, putting it on par with the college bookstores of the vast majority of our peer institutions and making the College more attractive to prospective students and families. The coffee shop-type space specifically could add another place for students to gather and study and for groups to hold readings and events. Such additions to the store would also provide alternatives to the current Williamstown mainstays. Businesses like Water Street Books and Goff’s Sporting Goods more or less hold monopolies in the Williamstown area, and perhaps the consumer would benefit from the addition of competition into those markets. However, the Record believes it is of the utmost importance to examine the ramifications of that potential competition; the interests of students alone should not and cannot be the only represented in considering the creation of a new business off-campus.

The College does indeed own the textbook section of Water Street Books, so the store should not suffer an especially direct loss in the event of the college bookstore’s creation. Water Street Books does receive a considerable amount of foot-traffic from textbook sale, though, and it could be hurt by the College’s withdrawal, potentially to the point of closure. Readings and/or events held at the college bookstore would likely be better attended than those held at Water Street thanks to the potential bookstore’s convenient Spring Street location. With the advent of big-box bookstore chains, closure seems to be the fate of many independent bookstores across the country, small stores that often serve as treasured community spaces. It would certainly be regrettable, and likely damaging to the College’s important relationship with the surrounding community, if the college bookstore were to rob Williamstown of such a space.

Goff’s too could be jeopardized by a college bookstore, though likely to a lesser degree. As the details of the store have obviously not yet been determined, it cannot be said how large its non-book, i.e. coffee and apparel, section will be, and therefore it is unclear to what degree the sale of College apparel would affect Goff’s profits. Goff’s merchandise may end up being more varied than the bookstore’s would be, including more niche items directed towards tourists and/or alumni that likely would not be competing with the bookstore’s stock. Nevertheless, the College’s intrusion into the markets of Williamstown businesses, while perfectly within its rights, could still be seen negatively as a prioritization of the College itself, its economic success, over that of the Williamstown community.

The College makes up a significant portion of Williamstown, and so the fate of the town is, for better or for worse, very much tied to the College. The closeness of these ties makes it all the more necessary that we maintain a positive relationship with our surrounding community, that we respect its independence while continuing to work for its welfare. While in many ways a college bookstore would benefit the College and our student body – potentially improving the book-buying experience, creating a new space to gather and increasing the College’s profits – we at the Record believe these advantages must be evaluated with the possible damaging effects on community establishments held close in mind.

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