CEDAR FALLS — After 80 years of serving the needs of students and professors, a College Hill business is becoming part of the University of Northern Iowa.
UNI announced Monday it has signed a letter of intent with University Book & Supply Inc. to purchase the bookstore for $2.4 million plus inventory costs at the time of closing. The only bookstore near campus, it has served as a main source for student textbook purchases.
Six stockholders own the store, at 1009 W. 23rd St. Among those are Kathleen Hesse and Doug Johnson, respectively president and vice president of the business, and its largest shareholders.
“Kathleen and I are getting pretty close to retirement age, and so we started looking at our options,” said Johnson, noting the other stockholders were not willing to buy them out. “It was really coming to light the university might be interested. We approached them with the idea.”
Store owners have been working on an agreement with UNI “over the last several months,” he said. They’ve made it public now because the Iowa Board of Regents will consider the request at its meeting Wednesday.
“We’re excited that they were really willing to work with us,” said Johnson.
The university expects the transaction to be complete by March 1, according to a news release. No general education funds will be utilized in the purchase.
Michael Hager, the university’s senior vice president for finance and operations, said there are two primary reasons the acquisition is a fit for UNI.
“First and foremost, students will continue to have convenient access to the textbooks and course materials necessary for their educational experience,” he said in the news release. “With UNI owning the bookstore it will operate as a not-for-profit entity, which will offer UNI students the lowest possible pricing every year. Taking advantage of this opportunity is another element of the ongoing UNI initiative of providing a high-quality education at a reasonable cost.
“In addition, the acquisition will keep ownership and control of this business in the Cedar Valley, which we feel is very important,” noted Hager.
Johnson said those same reasons are important to the current owners. “We knew the university would be able to do some things that we wouldn’t be able to if they run it as a nonprofit,” he explained.
Textbook sales account for more than 60 percent of University Book & Supply’s business. The store, which serves the broader community as well, also sells other books, apparel, teacher resources and school supplies.
The book selling business has gone through massive changes in recent years with the advent of online retailers and electronic books, developments that also have affected textbook sales.
“We’ve been fortunate that at the University of Northern Iowa we’ve been the sole bookstore,” said Johnson. “We’ve taken pride in that. We felt we’ve been fairly competitive, but it’s a challenge just like anything else.”
He called the current situation unique among regents institutions, noting the University of Iowa and Iowa State University already operate their own bookstores. “Nationally, most (public universities) have their own or lease out to another company,” said Johnson.
The store originated as Latta’s Bookstore in 1937 at 909 W. 23rd St. It moved to the current address in 1962, eventually growing to 28,000 square feet. In a renovation completed in 2003, the store expanded to an adjacent building, adding another 24,000 square feet.
The store employs 20 people full time and 15 to 20 people part time. University officials declined to comment on any changes that would be made once the sale is complete.
“It’s really just an agreement in principle. The final agreement has not been signed,” said Scott Ketelsen, a UNI spokesman. “It would be premature to say anything in detail.”