Northern Iowan

UNI plans to buy Book & Supply

The University of Northern Iowa plans to acquire University Book & Supply before March of 2018.

CLINTON OLSASKY, Executive Editor

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This past Monday, Dec. 4, UNI made an announcement that was truly one for the books.

UNI and University Book & Supply (UBS) announced on Monday that the two parties had signed a letter of intent for the university to purchase the bookstore for a disclosed sum of $2.4 million, plus inventory costs, according to a press release issued by UNI’s Office of University Relations.

“We’re feeling very excited and confident that we made the right decision because I think there will be a benefit to the students,” said Doug Johnson, vice president of UBS.

The announcement was initially made Monday via a letter by Michael Hager, senior vice president for finance and operations at UNI. According to Hager, UNI will not be using general education funds in the proposed purchase and will instead be relying on a loan that the university plans to pay back in full from bookstore operations.

Hager also stated that the transaction will likely be completed by the beginning of next March.

The request for purchase was considered at the Iowa Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

According to Hager’s letter, which was addressed to UNI faculty and staff, UBS’s current status as a privately-owned business will end upon completion of the university’s purchase, at which point the bookstore will become an auxiliary of UNI.

Hager also said that the bookstore will operate as a “not-for-profit entity” once UNI assumes ownership, according to the press release issued by the Office of University Relations.

The completed transaction would mark the end of UBS’s 80-year run as a privately-owned business, as the bookstore first opened in 1937.

“It’s been a revolving ownership — basically, it’s been employee-owned for the majority of those 80 years,” Johnson said. “So, when someone retired, the other employees would buy them out. And that has always worked very well up until the last few years. We just haven’t had the people that are willing and able to buy out those that are retiring […] And that’s what prompted this course of action.”

“UBS has had a great relationship with UNI for 80 years,” said UBS President Kathleen Hesse in a statement to the Office of University Relations. “When it came to sell the business, all the stockholders agreed that the university would be the best buyer to continue serving the students, faculty and community.”

In his letter, Hager also stressed the importance of making students’ purchasing experience more convenient and even cost-effective.

“Students will see at least a seven percent reduction in what they pay for textbooks from the bookstore following the acquisition by UNI,” Hager stated in his letter. “In addition, the purchase will keep ownership and control of the business in the Cedar Valley, which is important.”

Hager did not further explain how the university will bring about these savings for students.

However, Johnson believes Hager’s comments are likely linked to UNI’s status as a state educational institution, which exempts the university from paying state sales tax on goods purchased within Iowa.

Johnson said a similar operating model can be seen at both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.

“If you were to check into the other state bookstores, they’re not charging the seven percent sales tax, and that’s where we — as a private company — we have to charge sales tax,” Johnson said. “The university doesn’t have to do that. But, bottom line, it does save the student [money]. It’s not any different than when students buy online from other places that don’t charge sales tax.”

Although UBS’s exact future remains unclear in these early stages of UNI’s proposed purchase, Johnson said he doubts that the university will impose any extensive changes to the bookstore — including changes to staff.

“[The staff] will have to go through the process with the university,” Johnson said. “But more than likely, most of the staff will be the same. Then again, I can’t speak for the university, but I don’t think that there will be any major changes initially.”

As of press time, the Office of University Relations could not be reached for direct comment.

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UNI plans to buy Book & Supply