International corporation takes over SRJC bookstores

Simon Isaksson, Executive Editor & Co-News Editor

After more than $1 million in losses, the Santa Rosa Junior College bookstores in Santa Rosa and Petaluma will shut their doors March 15—but not for good. Both locations will reopen after SRJC’s spring break under the management of international retail college bookseller Follett Corporation.

While the switch means cheaper book prices for students and a greater variety of offerings in used books, e-books and rentals, some argue it would be beneficial to maintain local control. However, continuing SRJC control is no longer economically sustainable, according to vice president of finance and administrative services Doug Roberts.

“Three years ago we barely broke even, despite cutting staff. Last year we lost $400,000. This year we are expecting a $500,000-600,000 loss,” Roberts said. “We tried to turn it around by reducing staff and broadening our assortment but the bookstore kept losing money. It was no longer a tenable situation.”

The biggest explanation for declining revenue is the decrease in book sales. Since 2010, the revenue has dropped 40 percent, according to Roberts, as students turn to competitors such as Amazon to get the best bang for their buck.

“Now, Follett will go head-to-head with Amazon and match their prices and offer better deals for our students,” Roberts said.

More than 35 students are currently hired part-time in the SRJC bookstores. All have been offered new positions in Follett’s campus bookstores and will keep their current hourly wage, which ranges between $10.50-11.20.

Anika Gillespie-Jones, an SRJC student currently working as a cashier in the Santa Rosa campus bookstore, is excited about the transition.

“Although I am sad to see the bookstore go under new management, it is a great transition,” she said. “How we are going to get paid is a lot better. Instead of getting monthly pay, we will get it weekly. For me, as a college student, doing that once-a-month payment has not been helpful.”

Nine full-time employees currently work in the SRJC bookstores. None of them will keep their positions as the transition happens, but all have found new jobs at SRJC, according to Jolley.

“We filled vacant positions with them, and we also worked with the union to make some full-time positions on campus from work previously done by short-term non-contractors,” Jolley said.

Bookstore employees were initially worried when they heard about the upcoming transition, said Jolley, but everyone has cooperated.

“Of course it was frightening at first for the employees,” Jolley said. “It can be exciting but also scary with changes like these, but everybody has been fabulous.”

SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong was involved in the decision to outsource the bookstore from the beginning.

“The reason we are doing this is because we do not want to bleed money. We would not change if we did not have to. In my opinion, if the bookstore was operating and making a profit, we would have kept it the same,” Chong said. “Once it starts losing money, you have to look at the options. Our best option going forward is to go with somebody who can run it for us, who is an expert and can drive the prices down more than we can.”

Follett Corporation is the largest operator of college bookstores in the United States with nearly 1,200 local campus stores, according to their website.

“They [Follett] know how to work in community colleges. They have experience, and they have many contracts with other community colleges. The people I have talked to have been very happy with them,” Chong said. “I am confident this will be an improvement from what we have [today] where students go online to get the most affordable textbooks and our bookstore is worn-looking and tired-looking and not really a snazzy-jazzy place to go into.”

Follett will remodel the interior of the bookstores. On Petaluma campus, the bookstore will relocate to its original location in the dining area while the Santa Rosa campus bookstore will remain at its current position for the foreseeable future.

“But with Measure H and all different movements, I cannot guarantee [the locations] will be there forever,” Chong said.

CORRECTION: Based on information from a source, The Oak Leaf wrote in the newspaper published March 13, that SRJC international students will not be able to work in Follett’s bookstore due to visa restrictions, but that no international students are impacted directly because none work in the bookstore. In fact, there are SRJC international students working in the bookstore, and they will be able to continue to work as Follett takes over the control.