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Campus store comes under new management

Photo by Phyllis | and Phyllis The Rice Thresher

By Amber Tong     8/23/16 10:54pm

The former Rice Bookstore and Recharge U have come under new management and combined under the banner of Rice University Campus Store. Beyond meeting students’ textbook needs and featuring more products at lower prices, the new store will strive to tap into the residential college culture and have a bigger presence around campus, according to Manager Matt Erskin.

“My goal is to get the campus store seamlessly integrated into campus so it's not a separate entity, but a part of campus culture,” Erskin said. “That's the idea. And it's going to take time to do that. But we're going to start taking steps toward that direction.”

The search for a new vendor began in fall 2015, as the contract with Barnes and Noble was expiring, with the creation of the Bookstore Advisory Committee consisting of faculty, students and staff. According to bookstore contract administrator and senior operations manager Beth Leaver, the committee reviewed the campus community’s top priorities and decided Follett, a vendor which runs over 1,200 campus bookstores nationwide, was the best fit.

"We wanted the campus store to be more of a partner going out and helping student groups, faculty, and athletics with a variety of different programs across our campus," Leaver said. "Follett just seemed like they are not the one-size-fits-all kind of model and could customize to what Rice was asking for."

Even though business hours have been extended to 7p.m. on weekdays and the store will be open on weekends, Erskin said he does not want to be confined by the storefront in the Rice Memorial Center. Rather, he plans to partner with departments and student groups to host events on different parts of campus.

“We had a Harry Potter release party this summer that we held over in the Baker library,” Erskin said. “We're [going to] do stuff like that, where we are going to be popping up around campus, doing some kind of fun things.”

The store has a price match mechanism for textbooks, which students can appeal to when they purchase a textbook and find out that it is cheaper at other book vendors. Follett would then compensate the discrepancy with store credit as long as it is under a certain amount. It has also introduced a selection of residential college-themed products and on campus delivery.

Ellen Marsh, a fifth-year architecture student at McMurtry College, said the changes that the student center have undergone are “pretty shocking.” While she said she found some products to be overpriced, she said the store is now a more pleasant space.

“When you're looking in, it's nice to be able to see fluidity between the spaces that you're about to walk inside instead of just single rooms that don't connect one another,“ Marsh said. “I don't know if I will be buying more things, but I will probably come in more often.”

Lovett College freshman Joe Merchant, who purchased a textbook from the store, said he liked the organization of the store, as well as how reasonably priced the gears and certain books are.

“I'll probably buy half of my books here and half on a third party website,” Merchant said. “Some [textbooks] are pretty reasonably priced, others are a little expensive.”

Will Rice College sophomore Reagan Hahn said she is planning to get her textbooks online. Although she bought stationery at the campus store, she said she wouldn’t visit again “unless it’s an emergency.”

Leaver said for Housing and Dining, who oversees the campus store’s operations, the priority in the coming year is to build a positive image among students.

“In the first year, we are looking at establishing credibility as a shopping destination and intellectual asset for our community,” Leaver said.

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