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.