Community leaders and business owners in the university towns of Hattiesburg and Starkville are welcoming the new on-campus academic superstores, operated by national chain Barnes & Noble. None of those interviewed by the Mississippi Business Journal see the campus chain stores as threats to local off-campus retailers.
“I see no conflict with off-campus retailers,” said Ben Teague, vice president of economic development for the Hattiesburg Area Development Partnership. “I think it will complement the other businesses.”
Retail in the Hattiesburg vicinity is booming, she said, with a trade area that takes in 18 counties in South Mississippi. “We’re 100% satisfied with retail,” she added. “Sales are exceeding what we thought they would be and there’s no cap in sight. We rank in the top portion of the state in terms of sales tax collections.”
Linda McMurtrey of the Hattiesburg Downtown Association echoed those positive thoughts.
“The campus bookstore serves a different market niche and it won’t hurt the independent bookstore that’s located downtown,” she said. “The downtown store recently expanded and doubled their space and they’ve been having a lot of activities, including a writers’ conference.”
A new addition to the downtown scene, the Yokel Market, is also expanding and the two businesses are hosting events together. “The Yokel Market sells organic food including fresh produce and canned goods,” she said. “They just opened in December of 2005 and have made a real go of it in this market.”
Bernice Linton, director of the Downtown Association, says she’s heard no negative comments about the new campus superstore. “I think it will target students,” she said. “It won’t be a frequent destination for shoppers from off the campus because the parking situation on campus is horrendous. People will probably go check it out between semesters but won’t go there often.”
In Starkville, businessman John Hendricks isn’t worried about competition from the Barnes & Noble store on the Mississippi State campus even though the national retailer sells school paraphernalia. Hendricks has owned The Lodge, a college fan store near the campus, for 26 years.
“I don’t think it will make any difference,” he said. “They (the campus store) said they would not add to the MSU items they already have. Our slogan is ‘Everything Maroon and White,’ and we still have everything.”
Hendricks said his 10,000 square feet of retail space offers fans everything you can imagine for Mississippi State in the way of apparel and gift items. It does its own silk screening and embroidering. It also carries casual athletic apparel and footwear, things Barnes & Noble does not sell.
“We spend all our time and energy finding out what MSU fans want and we feel we’re much more in tune with fans. We’re local, not a chain store, and all 30 people employed here are MSU alums or students.”
That local touch is the key to The Lodge’s success, says Hendricks, who earned two degrees at MSU. “We’ve been here a long time and hold season tickets to everything,” he said. “Chain store headquarters in New York don’t know what fans here want.”
Fall is the busiest season for The Lodge and the owner sees no change this year. There’s always been a bookstore with school items on campus. “It’s nothing new. It’s just a new company,” Hendricks said. “They (campus representatives) talked to us about it and I don’t think it will hurt us.”
Arma Salazar, vice president of tourism with the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, says she’s heard positive comments, and the new campus superstore is a tourism draw because of its location.
“It is right behind the stadium on the edge of campus, and it’s connected to the new historic clock museum,” she said. “People will go there because of its easy access.”
She said the new facility is located in an area that has been re-developed. It’s called the Junction although it used to be called Malfunction Junction. “It’s where the city and campus meet. Now some streets are closed and there’s a grassy area and sidewalks,” she said. “It’s really neat the way it all aligns. This area bridges that gap.”
The clocks in the museum, all wind-up models, are from the private collection of Cullis Wade whose generosity funded the building that houses the museum, welcome center and bookstore. There is no admission charged to enter.
“The store has a great mixture of everything,” she said. “There’s a section dedicated to Mississippi authors and books by MSU professors. The comments I’ve heard about the bookstore and the independent bookstore off campus are that the two serve different markets. One is for those who want a large store and the other is for those who want a smaller store with more personal service. There’s a place for both.”
Salazar said the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau has a relationship with the group of retirees who man the campus welcome center, making it easy to coordinate tour groups to both areas.
“They have information about the city and school and we will work together,” she added.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.