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Academic superstores bring new look to campuses

Visitors and returning alumni to Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi may do a double take at the reincarnation of their college bookstores as upscale Barnes & Noble Bookstores. They opened August 1 and are called academic superstores. They’re complete with sleek escalators, coffee shops, every kind of book imaginable and indoor and outdoor dining spaces.

Clearly, these are not your parents’ college campuses.
Ray Hayes, vice president for finance and administration at Mississippi State, says the school outsourced the bookstore 12 years ago, so the concept is not new for the university.

“It was time to re-look at that outsourcing, and we issued a request for proposals in April of 2005,” he said. “Three entities responded, and they were invited to come on campus and make presentations to a committee made up of students, faculty and administrators.”

One of the motivating factors was that MSU wanted to move the bookstore from the old student union where there were too many functions and not enough space. The athletic department also wanted to use a gift to find new space for the welcome center. The two departments got together on combining the spaces.

“Barnes & Noble put together a first-rate proposal that the students were really excited about,” Hayes said. “The store proposed to carry trade books and clothing, plus have the café. Students know what they want and they grew up with this type of store.”

Hayes says today’s students want a different type of clothing from what their parents wanted. “Today, they want Ralph Lauren shirts and other brands they know and recognize,” he said. “They’re looking for a certain level of quality.”

Noting that students are what the university is all about, Hayes said the deal came about quickly once the decision was made to accept the proposal from Barnes & Noble.

“All the feedback I’ve had from the community is positive,” he said. “We kept the off-campus retailers informed and invited them to submit proposals.”

A re-modeling of the union, scheduled to open in the fall of 2007, will have an expanded food court carrying the branded kind of food that students also want.

Bobby Hamous, manager of the Barnes & Noble Bookstore at MSU, points out that the official name of the building is the Cullis Wade Depot Building. In addition to the bookstore, it houses the welcome center and a historical clock museum.

However, the academic superstore takes up most of the space with 30,000 square feet.

“This type of store combines the traditional Barnes & Noble that hosts general reading and Starbucks Coffee with a college bookstore that carries textbooks and school paraphernalia,” he said. “It’s a new concept but Barnes & Noble has done 15 or so of these superstores. There are about 500 college stores of different sizes. Some are small and have limited space.”

He says things are going well at the new superstore that’s three times the size of MSU’s former bookstore. “It’s one of the larger Barnes & Noble stores,” he said. “I describe it as a premier college store. The university reached out to Barnes & Noble and it’s a partnership between the two. They (MSU) had a vision to put this bookstore here and we partnered to make it happen.”

Hamous says the best thing about the store is its character. It looks like an old two-story depot and has exposed rafters and painted murals of MSU scenes. The building’s signs have a historic look, too.

“The architecture of the store really sets it apart,” he said. “The depot theme was chosen because a historic railroad runs through the campus and we’re near that. Most campus stores look different from other Barnes & Noble stores.”

The store manager said he wants the bookstore to be a place where faculty, students, staff and community residents can come together. “I want it to be a destination for the community to come on campus,” he said.

Arma Salazar, vice president of tourism for the Greater Starkville Partnership, believes the new bookstore/welcome center will be a destination.

“The convention and visitors bureau has a relationship with the group on campus in charge of the welcome center,” she said. “The center is manned by retirees who have information about the city and the school. We will coordinate with tour groups visiting there.”

Katie Townsend, a spokesperson for the Area Development Partnership and Chamber of Commerce in Hattiesburg, said the new Barnes & Noble on the Southern Miss campus will be an asset for the alumni and others coming to the campus and town.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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