Credit at bookstore discussed

By Stephanie Bradley

The committee deciding the fate of NIU’s bookstore has not yet decided if the store will be leased to an outside vendor, but one student member wants the bookstore to stay in university hands and to see students given credit cards to be used in the store.

If a student credit card was made available for purchases at the bookstore, revenue would be guaranteed for the student center, said Greg Bliss, a student member of the Holmes Student Center Bookstore Privatization Committee. “It would cause little pain or suffering by people running or using the (credit card) program.”

Bliss said the University of Illinois in Chicago has generated $2.5 million in credit card sales. He said 30 to 40 percent of the bookstore sales in the student union at U of I in Champaign-Urbana are from credit cards. Bliss said he has found no proof of unfair competition.

The credit system also would lose very little money—three to four percent at most—as a result of unpaid bills, Bliss said.

The committee agreed that a student credit card probably would increase sales at the student center bookstore but did not want to speculate on the reasons the plan was not implemented.

The NIU administration proposed that the program could be implemented on a need basis, with students receiving financial aid being the only ones eligible to use the card, said Bookstore Interim Director Neil Kepner. The idea was abandoned because it would eliminate many students and would cause more work. He said the previous committee wanted all students to have access to the credit card.

Committee member Doug Moore said previous proposals for a credit card “were attempts made by students to improve the bookstore. For whatever reasons, the administration has not chosen to act on them.” He said the NIU administration was constrained by the Illinois state legislature.

Moore said there will be no point in discussing the issue of a credit card if the bookstore is run by an outside vendor. If the administration chooses to keep the bookstore self-supported, however, NIU should consider options such as the charge card.

Moore brought up the importance of having a good director for the bookstore. A possible director with a good reputation might be offered “maybe $20,000 more than what we would normally offer.”

Assistant Provost Lynne Waldeland said, however, “No one is going to succeed if what is expected from the bookstore is unclear.” The committee should review what the campus needs, she said.

“Are costs and profits the main purpose of the committee or service?” asked Student Committee Member Jim Valentine. “If it’s service, we don’t need all these balance sheets. If everyone’s happy with the bookstore breaking even, then let’s get a good director down there (in the bookstore) and do what’s good for the students, faculty and staff.”

Valentine said it is “fine” if NIU retains control of the bookstore and hires a good director, but the university also should have potential leasees bid on the bookstore. He said potential vendors should give NIU an idea of what they could do for the bookstore.

Moore said he approved of bringing in companies for informal bids because that would give NIU a tentative idea of what it could get back from the companies.

Bliss said, however, it has not been proved to him that an outside vendor “can do better than us” except in efficiency, “but that just deals with profits and the bottom line. We want to provide optimum service without restricting profits.”

Ways to make the bookstore more accessible also were discussed. Bliss said the student center has no outside indication that it contains a bookstore, and the lack of parking does not promote sales. He said it might be possible to waive people’s parking fees in the visitors lot if they held receipts of bookstore purchases totalling more than a set dollar amount.

Bliss said the bookstore has an image problem because people see it as being more expensive than the Village Commons Bookstore when it is actually less expensive. He also said the bookstore cannot advertise the fact that its profits are used to keep student fees down.