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Greenfield Community College book store now run by private company

— Its physical location hasn’t changed — nor have the employees who stack, search for and sell textbooks to students each semester — but for the first time in Greenfield Community College’s 50-year history, the school’s bookstore is now being run by a private company.

College officials decided last summer to outsource the store to Follett Corp. — a move they say will buck a downward trend in bookstore profits, while also providing students with more book options at cheaper prices. Follett — a private Illinois-based company that sells education products and runs about 950 college bookstores in the country, including the UMass-Amherst bookstore and 51 others in Massachusetts — took over operations last October, said Regional Manager Mitch Walker.

The last few months were spent preparing for the first major wave of business at the start of this semester. The store is selling about 400 different titles in four ways: new, used, rental or digital.

Under the new arrangement, Follett will cover all of the store’s operational costs and has agreed to take on $170,000 in salaries and fringe benefits for four GCC employees who work in the store: three full-time and one work-study position.

In exchange, Follett will pay GCC a commission each year: 10 percent of total revenue up to $1 million. The company has guaranteed GCC $80,000 annually, but the college is expecting the commission to be closer to $100,000 each year, said Karen Phillips, the school’s comptroller.

Phillips said the store has always operated its own budget, and had seen a downward trend the past few years. More and more students were ordering books online, renting them from outside retailers or buying digital editions for laptops or tablet devices.

“We were at a point with the market being so competitive, it was hard for us to keep up,” she said.

The store’s total revenue has historically been around $1 million, said Phillips. Last year, the store collected $968,000 — which was $179,000 lower than two years prior.

And even with lower expenses each year, last year’s profit of $70,000 was half of the $140,000 profit the store saw two years ago.

GCC put the store up for bid last summer and received offers from Follett and Barnes & Noble. Follett ultimately agreed to keep the GCC store employees on staff, and offered a 4 percent higher commission than Barnes & Noble, said school officials.

The textbook industry has indeed changed in the past few years, said Walker, but Follett has adapted. Half of the GCC store’s books will be available in a used, rental or digital format, he said.

The rental option, in particular, offers students a chance to save cash. While the average price of a new book in the store is $175, the average rental is $87, said Phillips.

And by ordering books on the Follett website, students can access about 60,000 titles companywide, said Walker. Students can sell some books back to the store for half price at the end of each semester.

GCC President Robert Pura called the move a win for all parties involved.

“I am appreciative of the Follett organization and the GCC employees who together are working hard to make this hybrid model work,” he said. “What started out as a response to a fiscal challenge is now creating multiple positive outcomes for GCC and our students.” At lunchtime on Tuesday, a stream of students flowed into the store to pick up their books for the spring semester, which began last week.

Among them was Amherst resident Jordan Holloway, 25, who entered around 12:15 p.m. and left less than 15 minutes later with all the books he needed. Employees had helped him find the books throughout the store’s shelves.

The small stack in his hands — all but one of them rentals — totaled $112.

“If it (were) textbooks I knew I would use later in life, I’d buy them and it would be fine,” said Holloway. “But ones that I am using just this semester, why pay the extra money?” Others didn’t have such smooth sailing. Erin McConnell, 19, of Greenfield, opened her pre-ordered package outside the store to find the wrong book inside.

“It’s been a hassle getting my books this semester,” said McConnell. She initially ordered them on Amazon.com, but after a long delay in shipment, had canceled that order and bought them instead on the Follett site.

Some of the books had been cheaper on Follett and others more expensive, she said.

When Eric Dowler, a 22-year-old art student from Northfield, went to the store Tuesday, he couldn’t find the art supplies he needed.

“I was looking for a new case for my art pieces, and I was also looking for the sketch pads I needed, because we have specific ones, and they just don’t have them anymore,” he said.

Pura is confident that any “bumps in the road” will soon smooth out.

“We are just a semester into this new partnership, and there are issues that need to get worked out but this has been a positive beginning with promise for betterment,” he said.

To help with the peak selling time, the store has special extended hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. today, Thursday and Monday.

After that, the store will be open Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The store also sells standard school supplies, as well as GCC clothing and paraphernalia.

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