Print Still a Priority for College, Community
By Michael McAllister
The Zone of Confluence bubbled a bit this past July 5 when the Grinnell College Bookstore combined with the Pioneer Bookshop at what had been Gosselink’s Hallmark Store at 933 Main Street. Friday, September 16, that merger was marked with a grand opening celebration.
Over forty people were present for the official opening ceremonies, and traffic was heavy in the store even late Friday afternoon.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Grinnell College President Raynard Kington remarked, “We see this as yet another step in the wonderful relationship between the Town and the College.” The bookstore, he predicted, should “draw people from the college into the town” and should help “break that barrier” between Grinnell and Grinnell College.
City Manager Russ Behrens referred to a recent visit to Grinnell by a representative from the Department of Cultural Affairs and a tour that was undertaken to showcase Grinnell’s downtown. The new store generated positive comments as a symbol of cooperation between the city and the college.
From the beginning of plans for a bookstore location, the move was seen as a way for the college to interact with the community. Construction of the Humanities and Social Science Complex on the campus necessitated a new location for the bookstore. According to information from the institution’s Community Enhancement and Engagement department, “Grinnell College is … committed to helping with the health of downtown by centralizing two bookstore operations into a temporary downtown location on Main Street.”
The word “temporary,” however, is flexible, for Bookstore Manager Cassie Wherry cites plans to maintain the new location for three to five years. “This is the property that came up that we thought was the best,” Wherry stated, while development plans are underway for property owned by the college between Sixth and Fifth Avenues. The bookstore may eventually find its permanent home there, possibly with other retail, office, and housing additions, Wherry reports.
The move of the Pioneer Bookshop from Fourth Avenue to Main Street marked the close of a nine-year tradition, but the new location has generated new community business, Wherry observed, and she estimated that the community overall, as opposed to the college, makes up about ten percent of the merged bookstore’s business. During the summer, even though the new store did not open until July 5, a significant number of new customers was noted.
Books themselves have in a sense been co-opted by the digital revolution, a process that began circa 1994 when Jeff Bezos started an online bookstore, soon to be called Amazon.com, in his garage. Amazon’s influence is reflected in Pioneer’s online presence, allowing students to order books from their dorm rooms and receive free delivery the same day. “Amazon can’t beat that,” Wherry remarked.
The development of digital books has affected the sales of both textbooks and general reading material, but trends point to a slowdown of the digital revolution. Studies show, according to Wherry, that students in general “still prefer the paper textbook.” Even with general readers, she commented, trends indicate that “paper books are coming back, that people are switching back to them from digital books.”
Of course, a college bookstore consists of much more than books. What would it be without college apparel? The Pioneer Bookshop is heavily outfitted with Grinnell College clothing, and new Tiger merchandise and accessories have also been included in the inventory build-up. Shoppers looking for something with a local logo are likely to find it here. Youngsters, too, can find something of interest, for the store offers items such as plush toys, educational games, art supplies, and brain-challenging puzzles.
While the book selection understandably tends toward the academic, the general public is well served by the store’s inventory of recent fiction and nonfiction offerings. There is a varied selection of books of regional interest, many focusing specifically on Grinnell.
In addition to Cassie Wherry as manager, the enterprise is staffed by Ashley Barns, Sarah Hamilton, Harley McIlrath, and Brian Mitchell. The new Pioneer Bookstore opens Monday through Friday at 8:30 a.m. It closes at 6:00 p.m. except on Thursday when it closes at 7:00 p.m. Saturday hours are 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The store is closed on Sundays.