By Carolina Lumetta, News Reporter
Over the summer, Wheaton College administration outsourced campus bookstore management to the Follett Corporation, a Chicagoland campus bookstore chain founded over 145 years ago. With 155 stores in the region, Follett also operates stores in 30 member institutions in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.
According to Chief Information and Campus Services Officer Wendy Woodward, Wheaton’s “self-operated bookstore struggled to break even financially, and lost money in recent years.” In an email interview with the Record, she said the administration designated a Bookstore Contract Committee consisting of multiple offices on campus, including Student Government, to brainstorm solutions. The committee focused on evaluating ways to make the bookstore cost-effective and “revenue positive.”
Follett and Wheaton have a long history. In the 1860s, avid reader and former army chaplain Charles Barnes followed his mentor, Wheaton College President Jonathan Blanchard, to Illinois. According to the Chicago Tribune, Barnes saw a need for a student bookstore and used his personal library as the foundational inventory to open one, catering specifically to Wheaton College students. This new idea of reselling school books proved vital to the growing academic community. A history book, primarily about the regiment in which Barnes previously served, described his new calling as “a jobber of school books and stationary.”
According to Follett’s website, Barnes moved to Chicago and expanded the bookstore. He hired C. W. Follett as a stock clerk, who climbed the executive ladder and eventually became vice president. Follett bought the company after Barnes’ death and renamed it Wilcox & Follett Company. This success inspired Barnes’ son to begin his own book-selling business with his partner, G. Clifford Noble. Their partnership resulted in the formation of the famous corporation Barnes & Noble.
Alma Wilhelm, Follett managing director for the Wheaton bookstore, told the Record, “Beyond course materials, Follett will refresh general merchandise offerings to be a one-stop shop for class and campus life essentials. Wheaton College bookstore customers can expect a custom merchandise assortment that reflects local interests, as well as national trends in supplies, technology, clothing, gifts and more.” Follett also offers vast online resources and price-matching to competitor companies such as Amazon and, ironically, Barnes & Noble.
Junior Kenah Mathenge transitioned from bookstore associate to a team leader under Follett. She noted some challenges the management change had caused.
“There’s a lot less that we as students know about how things are being run, just because it’s not managed by Wheaton anymore,” she said. “We also lost eight [full-time staff] because of the transition. That’s been different, just getting used to new faces and new managers and the way that they do things versus how [the old managers did them].”
Senior Abigail Morris, another student bookstore employee, also commented on the willingness of Follett to work with student employees and their schedules.
“[The job application] asked me a lot of questions, including my class schedule, which I thought was a good sign, especially since I’m a senior,” Morris said. “It’s really important for me to take [specific] classes, including night classes, and I was really happy to see that they asked about that.”
“As part of the campus community, we love to be able to provide an on-campus learning opportunity,” she said. “Students have proven to be excellent resources to their peers and [others shopping at the bookstore].”
While the Student Services Building (SSB) undergoes renovations, students can purchase textbooks and school supplies in North Harrison Hall and all other Wheaton-branded items in the Welcome Center.
Applications are available on Handshake and on Follett’s website. Follett also hopes to complete renovations and unveil its new space in the SSB later this year. Over a century after the initial goodbye, Wheaton has welcomed Follett Corporation back to its roots
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