Commercialism and Convenience Jeopardize Moravian Book Shop

Over the weekend, news broke that the Moravian Book Shop would be under new ownership of Moravian College in June.

President Bryon Grigsby announced his excitement in a Facebook status, stating that he was “honored and humbled” that the College was able to obtain the store.

At first, I thought nothing of the exchange; what difference does it make for the bookstore to have new owners? Why shouldn’t our historic college own what is believed to be the world’s oldest operating bookstore?

And maybe it could be good for business since there are  bound to be more college kids there now, right? After all, the press release that Grigsby sent out did not outline any major changes.

However, as articles keep appearing, I am learning new information indicating that with the change in ownership comes a change in management.

Barnes & Noble will now manage the bookstore portion of the shop. This means that instead of operating as an independent bookstore that curates its selection, the Book Shop will just be another Barnes & Noble, with the same mainstream books that are in every one of their stores.

Right now, the Book Shop offers a variety of books, ranging from best-sellers to books specific to the Lehigh Valley and to Moravians. My fear is that Barnes & Noble will take away the local charm of the shop, making it indistinguishable from every other book store chain.

The new owners are also terminating the leases of the small businesses that have been operating out of the Moravian Book Shop for years. Bone Appetit and Colony Meadery both use space in the shop for their businesses, but the new deal discontinues their leases, according to WFMZ.  While I can’t say whether or not the businesses were successful, it’s rather sordid of the College to immediately leave so many people without jobs as soon as the check clears.

If you aren’t a fan of the food on campus, which I know most of us aren’t, then you won’t want to eat at the new Moravian Book Shop, either. The College is working with Sodexo to fill the empty space left by the businesses that were forced out.

With these new changes also comes the closing of our bookstore on campus, as told by Lehigh Valley Live. Instead, we’ll have the “pop-up” bookstore in the HUB, which, judging by the structure of other pop-ups, probably means the College will have a stand for our textbooks during the beginning and end of the semester. Anything else we need, we’ll have to get at the Book Shop on Main Street. While this isn’t a massive inconvenience for me, as someone who lives on south campus, it does make textbook shopping a little more annoying for those on north.

And with that, why would current patrons of the bookstore bother coming in anymore when the inventory will shift to Moravian sweatshirts and textbooks?

But perhaps the most disheartening part to me is that all the current employees are going to lose their jobs, according to WFMZ. That’s right, our beloved College has decided to lay off all the current employees of the Moravian Book Shop, allowing them to reapply for their old jobs.

So those dedicated employees that have worked here for years, with one swift business decision will be jobless and their only solace is that they might be able to get their jobs back. And who knows? Will they get the same pay as they do now? Or will the jobs be incorporated into work study, and will those of us who work there only make minimum wage?

Overall, I’m not too concerned about how this will make life harder for the College students. I’m more concerned about how this will affect a local staple that has been around for centuries. The College is trying to paint this picture of progress and community with their purchase of the Book Shop, but I’m not convinced that they’ll improve the store.

I’m sure that those who have sipped the red Kool-Aid that is Moravian College will defend the school’s decision till they die. It is completely fine to have school pride, as long as we can also acknowledge the shortcomings of our College. And I too agree that this change can be a good thing, but that’s only if Moravian College truly agrees to keep the integrity of the shop as they said they will.

So far, they aren’t off to a great start.

What we have is blatant commercialism that just reinforces the idea that colleges are turning more into businesses than institutions of education. They’re trying to market Moravian College to the community but instead have started to destroy the reputation of a beloved Bethlehem institution.