University Book Store turned 115 years old on January 10, 2015, maintaining its membership in the elite group of centenarian businesses in Washington. With headquarters on University Way NE, also known as “The Ave”, status as a private corporation, and nine Puget Sound locations, University Book Store is local, independent and large.
University Book Store is often recognized for its reigning position in the literary Northwest. City Arts magazine noted the store’s iconic status in its series on independent bookstores:
“University Book Store looks great for its age. Nearly 115 years old, the flagship University District store predates many of the classics on its shelves. It beat James Joyce’s Ulysses by 20 years and L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by a few months. For a centenarian shop, however, it feels eternally youthful thanks to a perennially new crop of fresh-faced students crossing paths with the wider community. It is the Grande Dame of Seattle’s indie lit scene. It remains impressively current and cool—more Dame Helen Mirren, less Dame Edna.”
Starting in January, University Book Store is marking its century-plus milestone with sales, giveaways, birthday treats, and even the debut of its new mascot “Ubie” to thank loyal customers on campus and throughout the communities it serves. Store displays will highlight black and white vintage photos and bestsellers from 1900. Even book choices for kids’ story times will reflect the colorful history of University Book Store.
Born in a Coat Closet
University Book Store first opened for business on January 10, 1900 in a cloakroom next to the University President’s office in Denny Hall. Two enterprising students are credited with establishing the student store; one of them was to become the store’s first manager. Although the Student Assembly, later to become the ASUW, gave its moral support, no start-up capital was available. Instead, it was proposed that the store be self-supporting. 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 showed it to be technically bankrupt. Two concerned faculty members stepped forward with words of encouragement and a gift of $100 to pay off the store’s debt. The store opened for business the following fall quarter and has grown and prospered since. The $100 gift is the only outside capital invested in the store to this day.
The Early Years
During the 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 and the last of the part time student managers became the store’s first full time manager, a position he held for 15 more years. 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. However, the University’s fire marshal concluded that the basement location was a safety hazard 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.
Move to The Ave
The timely closing of a pool hall in the building at 4326 University Way opened up a rental space and University Book Store once again moved to what was thought to be only a temporary location. The sudden appearance of a busy new store on “The Ave” attracted a new and larger clientele. The unplanned benefits of an off-campus location were quickly realized and sales jumped by 25 percent during the first year. In 1927, the rented building was purchased and became the store’s permanent headquarters. Just three years later, the adjacent building was also purchased and renovated.
Incorporation and Trust Agreement
The Great Depression brought major consequences both to the UW and its student bookstore. In 1927, the ASUW had financed the construction of Clarence “Hec” Edmundson Pavilion largely by issuing interest bearing bonds. As these bonds began to mature, the ASUW found it increasingly difficult to make the necessary payments and rumors of a possible bankruptcy surfaced. Since the bookstore 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, 933 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 members. 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. A significant change in the store’s organization came in 1964 following a comprehensive review of the University’s relationship with the ASUW and, indirectly, with the bookstore. 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 prepared 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 and, in 2005, a fifth student trustee and the store’s CEO were added to create the current-day 11-member configuration. The ASUW agreed to transfer all of its stock to the store’s Board of Trustees to hold “in trust” for students, faculty, and staff of the University. The Board now had two roles to play. As trustees and shareholders, they were obligated to ensure that the corporation upheld the purpose of the trust. By electing themselves directors of the corporation, they also assumed the responsibility of overseeing strategic direction and guiding store management.
The transfer of stock served to more clearly identify University Book Store as an independent business entity and the store took on many of the characteristics of a consumer cooperative with its “members” being UW students, faculty and staff and its governing board comprised of representatives of each of these member groups. The store’s practice of annually returning rebates to beneficiaries based on their purchases, resembles the practice of co-ops returning dividends to members. This structure remains in place today and members qualify for a 10 percent annual rebate.
Although the store’s legal status has remained unchanged since 1964, its operating and merchandising practices have evolved and its business has grown exponentially. At the time of incorporation, merchandising categories included textbooks, general books, classroom supplies, office products, sporting goods, and sportswear. During the following decades, the flagship store underwent vast transformations: a third floor was built, floor space was increased by 40 percent to today’s 90,000 square feet, and new departments were added including The Husky Shop, kids’ books, gifts, technology, and a Clinique counter. The first permanent branch store opened in the Husky Union Building (HUB) in 1961, followed by a second branch store in the medical school building (later moved to a new and larger location in the South Campus Student Union Building.) In 1987, a 22,000 square foot store opened in downtown Bellevue, marking the first expansion away from the campus. In 1991, stores opened in Bothell and Tacoma to serve UW extensions. In 2004, the 16,000 square foot Mill Creek Town Center store opened to serve a fast growing population in Snohomish County. In 2010, a 2,000 square foot store selling Husky apparel, souvenirs, books and supplies was opened in downtown Seattle at 4th and Union as part of the UW Husky Central project. And in 2011, a 3,000 square foot store opened at the Landing in Renton focusing on UW insignia products and general books.
Although it is one of more than 5,000 college stores in the U.S., University Book Store can be likened to very few. It is third in total sales volume and leads all college stores in the sale of books and supplies. It is one of only a few that is organized as independent, tax paying corporations with direct student involvement on the Board of Directors. And it is one of the few that annually returns rebates, or patronage, to its campus customers.
Facts about University Book Store
- Nine locations in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Renton, Mill Creek and Bothell.
- The oldest and largest independent bookstore in Washington State.
- Nation’s largest college store based on total sales of books and student supplies.
- Largest seller (combined online and in-store retail sales) of UW insignia gear.
- Approximately $1 million in UW Customer Rebates and discounts provided annually; more than $28 million in UW Customer Rebates provided since 1930.
- $1.2 million in cash paid to UW students in 2013-14 school year through textbook buyback program.
- Approximately $1.6 million in savings provided through the sale of used course books (compared to new book prices) each year.
- Over $750,000 in UW student scholarships granted.
- UW Laureate Contributor status (Donations to UW in excess of $1 million).
- Special academic pricing of computer hardware and software, including Apple Computer products.
- One of the first college book stores to offer an online textbook price comparison tool.
- Ten percent discount given to members of UW Alumni and UW Retirees.
- Host to over 450 authors for book signing events each year. Recent authors include Hillary Clinton, Lena Dunham, John Cleese and Norman Lear.
- Free gift-wrapping year round and free shipping of general books anywhere in the U.S.