Faculty Bookstore Commitee recommends bookstore at Willmott Lot

The committee considered three sites located near the intersection of Walden and Spring streets.--photo COURTESY OF Faculty bookstore Committee
The committee considered three sites located near the intersection of Walden and Spring streets.–Photo courtesy of Faculty Bookstore Committee

The Faculty Bookstore Committee released a report on Tuesday, April 21 outlining the process that has resulted in its recommendation for a college bookstore, to be presented to senior administration. The Committee recommended that Follett, the current operator of textbook sales at Water Street Books, operate a bookstore on the Willmott lot, at the corner of Spring Street and Walden Street.

The process for relocating the College bookstore began in the late 2000s, but after exploring possible locations, all discussions were postponed following the onset of the financial crisis. Discussions resumed in the summer of 2013, focused on improving store offerings and moving the College bookstore from Water Street to a more centralized location. Toward this end, the College surveyed a number of peer institutions, inquiring into their handling of college bookstore operations. The results of the surveys varied, but indicated that each institution generally acted according to its unique situation and specific goals.

In order to assist the College in envisioning a bookstore appropriate for the College and the larger community, a Request for Information (RFI) was released to potential vendors in November 2013 to assess interest in operating a store in Williamstown, with its location and composition determined by industry representatives. The RFI was also intended to establish relationships with respondents to a potential Request for Proposal (RFP).

The committee distributed the RFI to the three largest campus store providers as well as the American Booksellers Association and New England Booksellers Association to pursue potential relationships with independent booksellers. Responses to the RFI were received from Barnes and Noble College Division, Follett, NEEBO (Nebraska Book Company), Northshire Books, virtual bookstore provider Akademos and local entrepreneurs Hugh and Marisa Daley. The results of the RFI supported the committee’s belief that the store should be located on Spring Street, should sell College-logo merchandise, and that the College would be expected to contribute the space for the bookstore.

In August 2014, on the recommendation of the Board of Trustees and Committee on Priorities and Resources, the committee distributed an RFP to the respondents of the RFI to obtain concrete information regarding potential plans for bookstore construction and operation.

Responses were received to the RFP from all except Hugh and Marisa Daley. Meetings were held with Northshire Books, Barnes and Noble College Division, Follett and NEEBO. The committee determined a physical store is preferable to a virtual one, removing Akademos from consideration. The committee then met with the Committee on Priorities and Resources (CPR), who expressed concern with Northshire Books’ textbook procurement and the financial differences between its model and those provided by campus-store providers.

Open forums were held at the CPR’s recommendation on Dec. 2 and 4. Feedback from these forums and personal interactions with concerned community members, which included the widespread preference for an independent operator and concerns about the provision of textbook materials resulted in a request for clarifications from all RFP respondents. At this time it was determined that the store would be located at the Willmott lot, on the corner of Spring Street and Walden Street. Following receipt of responses to this second inquiry, a third forum was held on Feb. 19. The committee also explored the option of operating the bookstore as an Auxiliary to the college. However, due to excessive cost and potential 

difficulties in providing a stable source of course materials, this option was eliminated from consideration from the final plan.

Based on the financial proposals received, it is estimated that using Northshire Books would result in a $1 million operating cost over the next 10 years, versus over $3 million in revenue by using Follett or a similar company. The construction costs are also significantly higher for Northshire Books’ model, as it requires the College to supply all furnishings and inventory. In total, there is a $4.25 million advanatage of the Follet proposal over the Northshire Books proposal. 

Using Follet as an operator would provide continuity with its current textbook-selling operations at Water Street Books.

An additional benefit to Follett is that it could  operate a food service if desired. Follet has operated food services in the past. The committee also has confidence in Follet’s balance sheet, which contains no debt.

The committee proposed to expand its membership to address the desires of the community for a community bookstore, including operators of independent bookstores to serve as consultants, and additional faculty members. After reaching out to potential consultants, the committee identified two individuals interested in holding such a potential. The committee would also like to include more faculty memmbers

The College has met with Goff’s to discuss potential impacts of the bookstore on their functioning. It is expected that no exclusivity language with regards to college-logoed merchandise will be included in a contract with Follett.