Lucas Harsche ’23 is majoring in History and minoring in accounting. In addition to The Flat Hat, Lucas is also the treasurer for Swim Club and plays violin in the Symphony Orchestra. Email Lucas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
I was very saddened last spring when I learned that the William and Mary Bookstore planned to move locations for this fall semester. For me, the bookstore’s old location was a walkable enough distance so that each trip did not feel too burdensome in of itself, but was also removed enough from the College’s bustling campus to become a place of comfortable retreat. Books from every genre and subject imaginable, all available for both my mind and occasional well-spent dollar to wander in relative peace and quiet.
Thus, for the majority of this semester, I awaited the new bookstore’s opening with eager anticipation, constantly checking their social media and walking by the location whenever I got the opportunity. When it finally opened last month, it was clear that there was plenty of College apparel to satisfy any student’s holiday shopping, but the lack of a cafe and — most heartbreaking for me — books, leaves much to be desired.
Moving the William and Mary Bookstore from its location at Duke of Gloucester and North Henry Street to the Triangle Building on Prince George Street was a mistake on the university’s part, and I lay it at their feet in order to avoid misdirected frustration toward the very helpful bookstore staff.
The justification for this move, according to Cindy Glavas, director of William & Mary Auxiliary Services, “reflects W&M Bookstore’s continued adaptations to the sale and delivery of university textbooks and course materials while recognizing the value of in-person shopping for W&M merchandise and supplies.” I am not quite sure what “adaptation” is in place that was not already there before, as the old bookstore already offered online ordering and in-person pickup of textbooks. While the new bookstore no longer offers in-person shopping of textbooks, this was not an option employed by many students anyways considering how quickly certain textbooks become unavailable.
One of the major benefits promised as a result of this move was the location. It’s true that the new bookstore is now conveniently located next to Luck Kee Hair, the new Bake Shop marketed as making up for the lost cafe, and also one of my local favorites, Rick’s Cheesesteak Shop (not sponsored, I’m just a fan.) Despite these perks, the only seating offered for any partakers in The Bake Shop is outdoors, so your desire to sip coffee and study like you could at the old bookstore is at the mercy of Williamsburg’s totally predictable weather patterns.
Additionally, the new bookstore is honestly not that much closer to campus than it was before. While the original location in Merchants Square required a 15-20 minute or so walk at a quick pace from the back of campus (Botetourt, Randolph, etc.), those students who live back there still have to cross through the forest trail or circumvent around Ukrop Way in order to get to the Richmond Road side of campus in the first place before proceeding down Armistead Avenue to the bookstore. Maybe on paper it was indeed a shorter distance, but in practice, that’s not the case.
Returning to the case of the missing books, you might reasonably suggest that such a problem can be solved with an expansion to the new building. Unfortunately, the new location is significantly smaller than the old bookstore’s area in Merchants Square. The Virginia Gazette reported that, while the old bookstore occupied a space of 25,000 square feet, the new bookstore occupies 3,875 square feet, less than a fifth of the original size. Not only that, but the bookstore now has neighbors in its new location at the Triangle Building, thus making a possible expansion even more unlikely. It is true that there are a few bookshelves in the store dedicated to faculty publications and College-related books, but the days of genre-dedicated bookshelves by the dozens, tables dedicated to Founding Father publications, and leisurely perusing whatever catches your eye appear to be over.
At this point, I believe that the best that the College can do is to expand the bookstore’s website to offer books of various kinds — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, you name it — and offer in-store pickup for those as well. Now that I am privileged enough to have a vehicle on campus, a quick drive to the Barnes & Noble in New Town is always possible. However, there are still thousands of students — especially underclassmen — who need a place only a couple minutes’ walk away in order to destress and read what they want to for a change. While there are some ways that the new bookstore can offer that, it just won’t be the same as it used to be.
Here’s a cheat code for W&M undergrads: When I was in school (’09), as soon as I got my reading lists at the beginning of the semester I would make a beeline to Swem and check them out for free. Saved me several hundred dollars a semester that way.