Letters to the Editor

Erica Eisdorfer: Local ownership better for university book stores

Regarding the Sept. 19 news article “UNC store could be outsourced”: I retired as manager of the Bull’s Head Bookshop, the trade book store department of the larger Student Stores, in 2011 after more than 30 years on the job.

Over those years, the threat of sale to a corporation like Follett showed its face but never materialized. Perhaps the university realized that independence is not just a word, that chains dumb things down, that a campus as vital as Carolina’s deserves more than a faceless corporate machine with no ties to the community.

This year, the Student Stores, which is owned and operated by the university and takes revenues from neither the university nor the state, celebrates its 100th birthday. It’s an unusually successful store and has grown to be a major scholarship contributor for the university.

Will some bland chain be able to match what the Student Stores has done? And here’s what it has done: The Student Stores has contributed more than $27 million to student scholarships. Will some vanilla corporation be able to (or want to) match that? Seems unlikely.

The Student Stores has supplied a clean, well-lit place for scholars for a century. Will a faceless corporation make the effort from its home in Illinois (or wherever) to ensure that it represent titles from UNC Press and Chapel Hill’s Algonquin Books and Duke Press, as well as books by local authors and university faculty? Seems unlikely.

The Student Stores has employed thousands of students. Will a huge chain care that its student employees are treated fairly and paid well? Seems unlikely.

The Student Stores works diligently to keep textbook prices as low as possible. Will a chain (especially if a side-business of said chain is to publish said books) do the same? Um, well, seems unlikely.

The university wants to sell the store to whatever can promise the money the most quickly. But hold on a second! After several decades of moving their stores toward the corporate model, important universities are moving back to the independent, university-owned model. Why? It’s because big faceless chains have no real interest in the students, the staff, the community. Their interest is dollars alone, and that’s simply not the stuff of a good business. They couldn’t care less about UNC and Chapel Hill and about the particular interests and passions and politics of this place we call home.

Here’s what I say: Think again, money dudes! Greed has a way of reducing a place. And, anyway, how much more than $27 million in scholarships do we think they’re going to get? Also, have some foresight! As the tsunami-like business trends in the United States clearly show, local is better.

Erica Eisdorfer


The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the issue.