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University Book Store

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The University Book Store at the University of Washington first opened for business on January 10, 1900 in a cloak room next to the University President’s office in Denny Hall. Two enterprising students who had learned of the existence of student stores on eastern campuses can be credited for establishing a student store at the UW. Although the student assembly, later to become the ASUW, gave its moral support, no start-up capital was offered. Instead, it was proposed that the store should be a self-supported enterprise operating on business principles. The store opened with only a sparse inventory of goods that could be obtained from suppliers willing to extend credit. At the close of spring term, just four months after the store first opened, an accounting of the store’s business showed it to be technically bankrupt and its ability to reopen for fall term appeared in doubt. However, two concerned faculty members stepped forward with words of encouragement and a gift of $100 to pay off the store’s debt. The store did open for business in the fall and, although not without periods of distress, grew and prospered from that time forward. The $100 gift is the only record of any outside capital investment in the store, which has existed by means of only earnings and mortgage loans to this day.

During its early years the store was managed by a succession of students each appointed to a one year term and reporting directly to the student assembly. The store was operated only a few hours in mid-day so that the manager could attend classes. By 1907 the business had grown to the point that part-time management no longer sufficed. The last of the part-time student managers became the store’s first full time manager, a position he was to hold for fifteen more years. The ASUW retained oversight of the store’s business affairs and, from time to time, appropriated store funds for its other activities.

As the store’s business expanded it was forced to move from one campus location to another, the last of which was in the basement of Meany Hall. In 1924 the UW School of Music building was destroyed by fire prompting an inspection of other buildings on campus. The University’s fire marshal concluded that the large crowds of students going to and from the bookstore in the basement of Meany Hall threatened their safety and ordered the store to vacate the building. Since there was no other adequate space on campus a hasty search was made for a nearby off-campus site. The closing of a pool hall in the building at 4326 University Way made a space available for rent and the store was once again moved to what was thought to be only a temporary location.

The sudden appearance of a busy new store on the ‘Ave’ surprised both neighboring merchants and shoppers. The book store quickly gained acceptance from a new and larger clientele with more varied shopping interests, and the benefits of an off-campus location were quickly realized. In 1927 the rented building was purchased and became the store’s permanent headquarters. Just three years later the adjacent building was purchased and renovated. That same year the store returned its first cash rebate to UW students, a practice that would become known as the "patronage refund", a major and continuing element in the store’s operating philosophy.

The Great Depression brought major consequences both to the UW and its student book store. In 1927 the ASUW financed the construction of Clarence “Hec” Edmundson Pavilion largely by issuing interest bearing bonds. As these bonds began to mature during the height of the depression the ASUW found it increasingly difficult to make the necessary payments and rumors of a possible bankruptcy surfaced. Since the book store was the most valuable asset held by the ASUW, its legal separation came to light as a means both to help the ASUW and protect the store. The store was hastily incorporated on April 29, 1932 and by pledging its assets immediately borrowed $50,000 from four banks, $30,000 of which was loaned to the ASUW. Over the next several years the ASUW was able to recover and paid off its loan from the store.

At the time of incorporation 1,000 shares of capital stock were issued, 993 shares to the ASUW and seven shares to the board of trustees organized to direct the affairs of the new corporation. The members of the board included four students and three faculty. By its actions the ASUW had retained its ownership of the store but had passed direct supervision of management to an appointed group of representatives. Operating as an independent corporate entity the store became a more professional and responsive business that could better meet the needs of its growing clientele.

At the time of incorporation the store’s merchandising categories included textbooks, general books, classroom supplies, office products, sporting goods and sportswear. During the following fifteen years photography, music and gifts were added to the product mix. The store continued to expand by adding a third floor to existing buildings and by acquiring another adjacent property. Although the store had operated small temporary campus branches earlier, the first permanent branch store opened in the Husky Union Building in 1961. This was followed in 1969 by a second branch store in the University’s Medical School Building.

The last change in Book Store organization came in 1964 following a comprehensive review by University administration of the University’s relationship with the ASUW and, indirectly, with the book store. One of several results of this review was a change in the legal status of the store. It was concluded that the store had operated as an implied trust since its incorporation and that the trust should be formalized. A trust agreement was drawn and then adopted by the UW Board of Regents, the ASUW Board of Control, and the University Book Store Board of Trustees. This agreement set out the purpose of the trust, described the appointment, responsibilities and authority of the trustees, and identified UW students, faculty and staff as beneficiaries of the trust. The board was increased to nine members by adding a fourth faculty trustee and an administrative trustee. At the same time the ASUW agreed to transfer all of their stock to the store’s board of trustees to hold “in trust” for students, faculty and staff of the University. The trustee now had two roles to play. As trustees and shareholders they were obliged to ensure that the corporation upheld the purposes of the trust. By electing themselves as directors of the corporation they assumed the responsibility for establishing general store operating policies and for directing the store’s management.

Although the store’s legal status has remained unchanged since 1964 its operating and merchandising practices continued to evolve. In 1971 the health science branch store moved to a new and larger location in the South Campus Student Union Building. In 1977 the store undertook its most ambitious construction project yet, increasing floor area on the ‘Ave’ by 40% to 90,000 square feet. In 1982 the HUB store was relocated and doubled in size. In 1987 a 22,000 square foot store was opened in downtown Bellevue, marking the first time the Book Store had conducted business from a site away from the UW campus. In 1991 small stores were opened in Bothell and Tacoma to serve students and staff of the UW’s new branch campuses. In 1995 a store was opened in the heart of downtown Seattle. In 1997 the store agreed to manage the book and gift shop at the newly remodeled and expanded Henry Art Gallery, and in 1999 agreed to manage the shop at the Burke Museum, both located on the UW campus. In 2004, a 16,300 square foot store was opened in the Mill Creek Town Center.

Although it is one of more than 4,000 college bookstores in the U.S., University Book Store can be likened to very few. It is among the top three in total sales volume and leads all college stores in the sale of books and supplies. It is one of few that are organized as independent, tax paying corporations with direct student involvement in management oversight. And it is one of the few that annually returns cash dividends or patronage refunds to campus customers.

For more information, visit the Book Store's official site. [1].

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