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Students Rally to Keep the “UNC” in UNC Student Stores

Posted by Dean Asher on 9/30/15 12:00 AM
Topics: college store stories, customer loyalty

If University of North Carolina Student Stores goes leased next year, it won’t be without a fight from the student body.

The Keep the "UNC" in UNC Student Stores Facebook community page, organized by students and university staff in response to the news that the store may enter a lease agreement.

Tar Heels at UNC-Chapel Hill have come together to take a stand for their institutional store, forming the “Keep the ‘UNC’ in UNC Student Stores” community page on Facebook. So far more than 2,000 students, staff and community members have joined to share their thoughts and beliefs on why their campus store should remain under local control.

The page was founded in response to this Sept. 18 article that appeared in the Daily Tar Heel, where news of the potential leasing broke. Though the story states that school administrators hope the leasing agreement will cut costs on course materials, students are seeing it a different way. One member of the group posts:

“UNC Student Stores is well-run and unique to the UNC Chapel Hill community, There is no benefit to bringing in outsiders to run it, and much detriment to doing so. It ain't broke, don't try to ‘fix’ [i.e., ruin] a very good thing.”

The group has drawn students and store workers from other campuses that had their stores move from institutional ownership to a lease model, arguing that the cost of books actually increased for their students.

Former Bull’s Head Bookshop Manager Erica Eisdorfer also wrote a letter to the editor of The News & Observer, pleading the store's case.

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.

—Erica Eisdorfer
Former Manager, Bull's Head Bookshop

And to cap it all off, the Facebook page's admin shared the following list of why students should care:

  • NO student charge accounts for purchasing textbooks in-store or online. We have confirmed this would also be the case on our campus.
  • after the store was leased, textbook prices went UP instead of being cheaper
  • store does not stock enough textbooks to meet demand
  • textbook, merchandise, and other product orders are priced, placed and controlled by central distribution, not by store staff
  • less variety of brands and assortment of clothing and gifts
  • prices on store website not always consistent with prices in-store
  • complaints about low levels of store customer service
  • store staff works for and in the interests of the corporation, not the University

It's not clear yet whether UNC will go through with the plan to lease its store. What is clear is that the mere suggestion of doing so has struck a resounding chord with the Chapel Hill community.

That type of loyalty is not raised overnight. It is fostered by years — in UNC's case, a full century — of hard work, innovation and dedication to its students' success. How have they done so? UNC has access to a large pool of resources, but it garners support at all levels.

Student staffers are paid above minimum wage and receive performance raises. The store itself sells quality apparel and has a separate trade department, a convenience store and a coffee shop to encourage student traffic. It's a number of relatively simple choices that have put it at the forefront of students' minds as an institution worthy of protecting.

After all, the ultimate sense of security for a college store's future comes when students are willing to implore administration to maintain local control over the store in a slew of letters to the editor, Facebook posts and direct messages to school officials. As one wrote on the Keep the “UNC” in UNC Student Stores page: “Please do not destroy a community that is beautifully managed and universally loved."

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