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Student Book Exchange closing marks end of era for CMU community

With less than a month until their doors officially close, customers line the aisles of the Student Book Exchange during their 50 percent off "Going Out of Business" sale on Wednesday.  (Taryn Wattles | Staff Photographer)

With less than a month until their doors officially close, customers line the aisles of the Student Book Exchange during their 50 percent off “Going Out of Business” sale on Wednesday.
(Taryn Wattles | Staff Photographer)

Nearly 50 years worth of history, nostalgia and tradition will leave Central Michigan University as the Student Book Exchange closes its doors for good no later than July 9.

On Tuesday, many students were saddened and frustrated when the closing was announced through multiple “going out of business” signs hung in the windows of the bookstore and apparel shop.

The signs, written in bold black marker on stark white pieces of card stock, told students that a massive sale would commence until the store effectively sold the rest of its goods. The proclamation of a “50 percent off sale,” excluding their usually discounted textbook materials, sparked an outpouring of student, faculty, staff and alumni support felt on the ground and on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter.

SBX witnessed a massive flood of customers on Wednesday and Thursday, attracting a crowd of students looking to get one last look at the store, but also parents and prospective students in town for orientation seeking discounted wares before they would be no longer available.

The scene was one of both panic and mourning, mimicking only the hurried pace of a Black Friday sale. Parents of incoming CMU students raced around the store, instructing their newly anointed Chippewas to grab as many T-shirts as they could.

A conduit for CMU’s Greek Life community, the store was an ideal stop for new rushes and other Greeks to get cheap accessories bearing their beloved letters.

Detroit senior Demetrius McCloud is a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. He is also the acting public relations contact for the CMU chapter of the National Pan Hellenic Council.

McCloud said the void left by SBX will have a substantial impact on Greek Life at the university.

“(SBX) has been part of our tradition, part of our culture for more than 50 years,” McCloud said. “We’ll miss getting our apparel through them. What’s unfortunate is that the closing came out of nowhere. A lot of our members aren’t here and won’t have a chance to go get the remaining merchandise.”

McCloud worries about non-members or non-Greeks buying the various organizations letters, and wonders what SBX will do with the few pieces of Greek apparel left.

“The whole council feels that way,” he said. “The few of us that are around were able to get there and grab them up.”

As students stood in the long lines generated from the intense interest about the closing, winding around the interior’s display stands and making the large building seem smaller than it is, the staff of SBX worked diligently to the ring up the patrons, seeing many familiar faces for what could be the last time.

Sue Marker, 56, of Mount Pleasant, has worked at SBX for 18 years. As she stood on a platform that made up SBX’s second floor, looking out over the customers, she said that the closing comes with heavy hearts and a bitter sense of what could have been.

“Times are changing,” Marker said in between gesturing to cashiers on the lower floor to send any return items without tags up to her register. “We just couldn’t keep up anymore.”

“Keeping up” meant trying to compete with other book stores in a stagnant economy, Marker said, especially with more and more students reaching out to websites like Amazon for digital books or even free resources.

For Marker and the four other full time SBX staffers, some of whom have been a part of the store’s family since 1982 or longer, the prospect of being out of a job is devastating.

“It’s all very sad,” she said. “And we’re mad. Not at (the owner, John Belco). I’m just 56 years old. It’s going to be really hard getting another job at this age.”

Belco, who has owned the store for decades, is still reeling from the fact that his popular storefront, even if not in sales but in the hearts and minds of CMU students, would soon be gone.

When Central Michigan Life told Belco of the waves of students and alumni sharing his sorrow, he was touched and wanted to thank them for their patronage throughout his ownership.

“That means a lot,” Belco said, taking pause before he moved on. “This is like attending your own funeral.”

Share some of your favorite SBX memories with Central Michigan Life in our comments section, on Facebook or through Twitter. Check back with cm-life.com as we share more stories on the impact of the store’s closing.

10 Comments

  1. Who owns the building? What business will replace it?

  2. Do you guys have any details as to why they are closing? Was it just financial hardship? Was there any indication if the community could do something to help?

  3. Florence Schneider says:

    They probably would have sold more CMU gear if the athletic department had not foolishly changed our colors from maroon and gold to maroon and yellow.

  4. This is so disheartening. I have been shopping at the SBX since I first came to CMU in 2006. The staff was always wonderful and were so helpful when making purchases for my sorority sisters. This is truly a huge loss for Mount Pleasant. First the U-Cup closes and now SBX? The CMU/Mount Pleasant I fell in love with as an undergraduate is quickly fading away!

  5. zak aubert says:

    Not suprised. Amazon and other web giants have a tax free status in many markets that creates an uneven playing field. The SBX wasn’t just a place to buy goods, it was a part of CMU and Mount Pleasant’s culture. Don’t let this happen in your communities – support businesses that add directly to your local tax base – or hell a tax base at all at any level.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I blame Enos for the SBX closing.

  7. Not only is this close hard on the Greek Life at CMU, the Greek Life at Alma College regularly visited SBX since we have no place in Alma that sells the same quantity of Greek stuff. Sad for everyone!

  8. My heart is breaking. I remember Paddle Parties and the thrill of picking up custom Greek gear! Walking down Main Street with your arms full of SBX bags…everyone knew you had great new stuff!! My hope is that they will downsize and reopen strictly as CMU, Greek and custom apparel/accessories. Alpha Gamma Delta at CMU loves the SBX!

  9. Sarah Beth says:

    Business couldn’t have been that bad, there is a new graphic design storefront on Main downtown, C&O, Graphix Central, and CMU’s bookstore all still operating. The owner is ready to sell, liquidate his assets and enjoy retirement. It is unfortunate for many but we can only hope Mount Pleasant with continue to grow. Given the school’s new health programs and their flux of money it will.

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