When junior Micah Snow left his last shift at the Knox bookstore for summer break, he had finished scraping price tags off textbooks and sending them back to big distributors. He finished manning the cash register, putting together a schedule for student workers in Fall Term and completing other routine duties as Student Assistant in the Knox bookstore — a job he’d worked for about a year.
He left with the knowledge that he’d be returning Fall Term, ready to sell textbooks to eager incoming freshmen as they lined up with newly-printed class schedules, and that he’d be claiming his 10-hour work study from the college, making enough money to “live comfortably” at Knox.
When he left his last shift at the Knox bookstore for summer break, he didn’t realize he’d be leaving the job entirely.
But halfway through the summer, he received an email from his boss, Virgi Cox, notifying him that the bookstore had been taken over by a new company, Nebraska Books (also known as Neebo), and that she had set up an interview in the mailroom for him.
“It was just kind of jarring because … It doesn’t seem like you should be laid off from your work study,” Snow said. “I felt like I should have been guaranteed a job and everyone working in the bookstore should have been guaranteed a job somewhere else.”
Luckily, most student workers in the bookstore were graduating seniors, and Snow ultimately got a job in the mailroom.
“But what if they were all my year? That would’ve been five students qualified for work study that just lost their jobs, and the mailroom can’t take five people. I was the only one,” Snow said.
To many, the new bookstore looks much different than it did at the end of last year. The front of the store boasts a display of merchandise, including Happy Socks and coffee mugs with the hashtag “No filter” written on them. On another table, brightly colored purple and gold t-shirts supporting the Knox football team are stacked high. There are eight boxes of merchandise sitting in the back waiting to be unloaded and put on display.
The store even boasts a new best price promise policy: If a textbook can be found cheaper on an accredited site like Amazon or Half.com, Neebo will “meet it and beat it by 10 percent,” says bookstore manager Carissa Anderson, who started with Neebo in August.
These aren’t the only changes: The bookstore will be remodeled over Winter Break, and there’s talk of a brightly-colored awning to attract students to the bookstore in the basement.
As students shuffled back to school this year, rumors about the new bookstore circulated. Some blamed the change on a corporate takeover. Some cited a theft that had occurred in late spring.
According to Anderson, Neebo is working to “bridge the gap” between the company, which has over 1,300 locations around the country including Monmouth College.
“We’re just trying to make it as smooth as possible. A lot of people didn’t know that Neebo had taken over the bookstore, so that’s been kind of a hurdle that we’ve had to cross, and because it did happen over the summer and everyone was gone,” Anderson said. “So communication was out there but some people missed that, so I’ve just been trying to make it as easy as possible for everybody involved.”
During the year, junior Tanika Pradhan works at the C-Store, but she decided to take a job at the bookstore to pay rent while she spent the summer in Galesburg. Toward the end of July, she heard that new management was taking over. She didn’t think she had anything to worry about.
“But Virgi who was working there was a little worried, because she wasn’t sure what this meant and whether she had a position or not,” Pradhan said. “ I didn’t think she had to worry because she’s worked here for over 20 years, but when we heard about the details about the new management, they told us we’d all be out of a job.”
Cox has continued to work at the bookstore under Neebo’s management. She was unwilling to comment further.
Pradhan couldn’t go home to Kathmandu, Nepal, so she considered staying with relatives in Texas. She tried finding other jobs for the remaining month, but most on-campus jobs had already been filled. A faculty member ultimately found her a job doing painting services.
Pradhan doesn’t blame the Neebo employees for the lost job, but wishes it hadn’t come as a surprise.
“I wish they had just let us know in advance. It was a big thing, and I don’t think it happened overnight,” she said.
According to Vice President of Finance Tom Axtell, the change was prompted by the retirement of long-time manager Craig Connolly.
“It wasn’t fully anticipated so his retirement was effective June 30, and if it were a year from June 30 it might have been a very different process,” Axtell said. “We were trying to both replace him and make sure the bookstore remained functional in a very narrow window.”
The transition was only natural — Knox has been receiving books from the wholesaler for years.
“It was just an extension of our current relationships,” Axtell said.
Financially, it’s a positive change: Before Neebo, Knox captured 100 percent of both revenues and costs and paid for incurring costs like utilities, so the net was lower, sometimes running negative. Now, Knox makes a commission off products sold in the bookstore. The bookstore will also be hiring students, just not under the standard 10-hour work week model.
“It’s a different use of student labor, if you will,” Axtell said.
Still, that doesn’t quell the exasperation several students felt after having lost their jobs.
Snow likens the situation to an “amoral businessman.”
“It’s super efficient, but not necessarily friendly or cohesive to the environment,” he said. “It’s like a classic example of a big company swooping in and taking people’s jobs. It’s capitalism at its finest.”
He doesn’t blame Neebo; in fact, he’s had positive experiences with the company in the past.
“There’s a vibe from at least some people that it’s bad that Nebraska took over, and I don’t even necessarily think it’s bad that Nebraska took over because I personally think that they are a very efficient company. Whenever they sent books it was very organized — we got a ton of books from them. They’re a big name. The workers working now aren’t bad workers. What it was was the way it all went down.”
The responsibility of contacting him should have fallen on the Knox administration, he says. Instead, he only received a brief email from Cox.
“There’s a lot of elements that I don’t know. … It’s the trickle-down effect: We’re just getting small bits of dialogue, and then rumors on rumors,” he said. “There’s a lack of communication from the administration to me and the other people, and they kind of just did things and didn’t provide reason. And that’s what pissed me off and pissed many people off.”