Many students have wondered why the Student Book Exchange is closing after so many decades.
Full time SBX staff member Sue Marker points the blame across the street at Central Michigan University.
“When you have a school that doesn’t want to participate with you, it makes it that much harder to stay in business,” Marker said during the first day of the store’s going out of business sale.
For years, CMU and the SBX have had a loose business relationship, she said. While CMU would hold its orientations, the SBX would set up a welcome tent to attract prospective students to the store.
Marker said the school would invite them to do this as a part of its own orientation festivities.
During the last few years, Marker said those invitations have all but stopped and that the relationship between the store and the university of all but soured.
CMU also once purchased orientation supplies from SBX, Marker said. That aspect has also stopped.
“When I started working here, we did a lot more for the university,” she said.
Steve Smith, director of public relations at CMU, said the university recently changed its purchasing policies. The changes, he said, required the university to include a competitive bidding process for all CMU related purchases.
Cindy Rubingh, director of Student Account Services and University Billing, seconded Smith’s assertion.
The new policies require CMU officials to make proposal requests to businesses, outlining what they want to buy, Rubingh said. SBX was unable to compete with these other businesses.
Michelle Howard, executive director of Academic Advising and Assistance, said she felt the relationship remained strong despite the change in purchasing policies.
“That all goes to the purchasing department now for competitive bidding,” Howard said. “It was a business decision that was made higher up.”
With purchasing out of her control, Howard said SBX participation – or lack thereof – during the university’s orientation programs was the store’s choice.
“That was a typical behavior for SBX on orientation dates,” she said. “They would distribute fliers. That was their strongest, most recent connection to us. We were disappointed when we stared orientation this year, and their tent wasn’t set up on Washington and Preston (streets).”
However, Marker’s concerns go beyond extinguished contracts and rescinded event invites. The alternative book store was known for cheaper university wares, discounted text books and higher sell-back yields. These aspects made the store advantageous for students and their wallets.
Maker said she believes the introduction of the CMU Money Card and other CMU-based currency systems were ways to keep students buying at the university book store.
“We didn’t take business away from them, they took business away from us,” she said.
Rubingh refutes Marker’s claims by pointing out that CMU Money Card purchases are not confined to campus locations.
“They can use the the cards anywhere they want,” she said. “They can use them on campus but they can also use them at Walmart.”
Rubingh also said the claims of CMU wanting to push out SBX for more business are preposterous, citing the university’s relationship with SBX Central’s owner, John Belco.
“There’s history there with John Belco,” she said. “He used to manage our bookstore.”
SBX will close on July 9 or sooner if its stock sells out before that date.