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More universities lease bookstores to national chains

PROVIDENCE, R.I. --Brown University may join a growing pool of colleges nationwide that are turning their bookstores over to national retailers.

Brown students and their supporters who oppose the trend are afraid it will drive up book prices and reduce profit shares for the university and the community.

But universities often save money by leasing their bookstores to chains, said Damon Manetta, spokesman for the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

The large retailers can provide the resources and expertise to train staff, carry out bulk-buying practices and promote sales with more sophisticated marketing techniques, education officials say.

The bookstore at the University of Pennsylvania carries more books, periodicals, gifts and other items since Barnes & Noble College Booksellers started running it in 1998, said Christopher Bradie, executive director of Penn Business Services.

"The new store has also enhanced the quality of campus life with its additions, including a cafe that is often filled to capacity with students," Bradie said.

The number of bookstores run by major corporations has more than doubled since 1992, according to the National Association of College Stores. Out of 4,650 college stores, outside companies operated more than 1,500 stores last year.

Some universities are going in the opposite direction.

The University Bookstore at California State University, San Marcos, made the change six months ago. It used to be run by a small private company in California.

Pam Edmonson, director of commercial services, said university officials wanted to address campus needs more quickly. As a nonprofit foundation, the bookstore can make changes without having to go through layers of a corporate structure, she said.

A Brown committee recently issued a report recommending the Brown University Bookstore be turned over to an outside company. The committee even said Barnes & Noble or Follett Higher Education Group should be considered seriously.

But Brown students and faculty worry a national chain would rob the community of its character and hurt local businesses by driving up rents.

They have formed a coalition with alumni, local merchants and politicians to prevent Brown from leasing the store.

"The essentially non-literate multinational corporate takeover of the publishing industry in all of its production and distribution aspects is one of the truly sad stories of the past three decades," said Robert Coover, an award-winning author and Brown professor.

Coover was one of more than 60 people who braved the cold Wednesday evening to attend a rally outside the bookstore.

Organizers urged the administration not to hand over operations to a large corporation.

Many in the crowd held up signs saying "we love the bookstore" and "no to outsourcing."

"National chains have no interests in the local interest of the community," said Brian Sweeney, a Brown graduate student.

It is not who runs the bookstore, but how it is managed, that matters, said Bob Hassmiller, of the National Association of College Auxiliary Services.

"The underlying goal is that students get the best service for the most economic amount of money," Hassmiller said.

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