Corrections or additions?
This article by Dina Weinstein was prepared for the October 25,
2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
U-Store: Keeping the Colors
by Dina Weinstein
It’s a little bit of Macy’s, a little bit of Urban
Outfitters, a little bit of Radio Shack, a little bit of Barnes &
Noble, a little bit of CVS, and a whole lot of orange and black. At
Princeton University, the campus bookstore — the Princeton
store — has just completed a $2 million renovation aimed at
a brighter atmosphere, a better layout, and more merchandise.
at the 40,000-square-foot store at 36 University Place, known as the
"U-Store," hopes the changes create a more inviting location
for the community to shop as well.
"We did research in 1997 on how people felt about the set up of
the store and what they wanted," says James R. Sykes, the U-Store
president and CEO. "We asked students, staff, faculty, alumni,
and townspeople. And the results were that nobody knew what was inside
the store. There were a lot of walls."
This summer the store shut down and construction workers knocked down
those walls to create big spaces. Merchandise is situated to create
a "race track" layout, leading customers in a circular pattern
around the store, exposing them to more products. Administrative
stockrooms, and the receiving area have been moved to the basement.
Apparel is on the second floor, as before, but books have been moved
from the first to the third floor. Items for campus living went from
the basement to the first floor.
Sykes, who has headed the institution for four years, says the board
of directors realized a renovation was long overdue when they
candidates for the CEO’s job and heard every one of them recommend
drastic changes. "It really became apparent to them that the store
was run down," says Sykes. The store faced that problem in
to the common retailing challenge of competition (especially from
big box bookstores on Route 1), and it had other special
imposed by the university.
Sykes was offered a quick fix when he had been on the
job only two weeks. In October, 1996, Barnes & Noble approached
him, asking if he would like the chain to run the campus store as
they do at a number of colleges. Barnes & Noble claimed it would have
generated hundreds of thousands of additional dollars per year, says
Sykes. But after four months the board rejected the offer, thinking
it could be more responsive to local control and interests. "The
ability to make the store unique to Princeton was more highly valued
than the money," Sykes says. "Rather than having a chain
we could tailor the assortment to Princeton."
The Princeton University Store has been in business since 1905. It
is a co-op with the mission to serve the needs of the Princeton campus
and the larger Princeton community. It claims to be Princeton’s
independent bookstore, and it is downtown Princeton’s only department
store. To its advantage, it even has its own free parking lot directly
across the street. Its board of trustees has some Princeton University
students among its members. Anyone who belongs to the U-Store
which includes anyone who has ever been a student, gets discounts.
Sykes says there are 50,000 members and currently about 10,000 active
members, half of them students.
U-Store research showed that both students and townspeople wanted
to shop close to home for the things that the U-Store offers —
textbooks, cosmetics, trade books, computer books, computers,
clothing, greeting cards, medication, stationery, and Princeton
With the convenience of both the students and townspeople in mind,
the store has two entrances, one from the campus and one from
Place, and each entrance caters to a different group. In this way,
the renovation attempts to reach out to a greater audience but keeps
its roots firmly in its mission to serve and represent Princeton
"The students wanted us to sell food and such," says Sykes.
"And they wanted that to be in operation for longer than our
hours. (which are 9-9 Monday through Saturday, 11-5 on Sunday) That’s
how the U2 section came about. It’s like a mini-WaWa."
The U2 convenience store is located in the rear of the U-Store’s first
floor — the campus level. It is stocked with snack foods and
foods from Olive’s Gourmet Deli on Witherspoon Street. A wall can
close off the rest of the U-Store from the 1,500 square foot U2 so
that section can stay open until 2 a.m. "Students keep late
Beyond U2, the campus level addresses the needs of those living in
dormitories: casual inexpensive furniture and accessories, computers
and software, CDs, a pharmacy, health & beauty aids, school supplies,
art supplies, greeting cards, and more.
When customers enter from University Place, they see floor one (campus
level) and floor two, with its bright display of Princeton University
insignia products. A Clinique make-up counter sits centrally. Men’s
and women’s ready-to-wear are in the rear on mezzanines. Both of those
departments are well stocked with Levi’s jeans. For women, there are
Urban Outfitter and Esprit brand togs. For men there is formal and
The U-Store’s Pasadena-based architectural firm, Kremer, Shipp, and
Daggett, specializes in college store design. Bob Daggett describes
the U-Store as possessing a specialty department store look. "We
knew the design would have to appeal to a larger taste," says
Daggett. "Also there would have to be a worldly look to the store.
An adult would have to be comfortable shopping here."
While an exciting combination, the university’s orange and black
screamed Halloween to Daggett. He felt pressure to use it, and he
did use orange-laminated counters in the student-centered campus
but not in the parts of the store that are supposed to appeal to
"Those are not good colors to put as a background to
Daggett says. "So we used black and orange as accents. In the
backgrounds we used soft and traditional colors. The result is
quite sophisticated like you would find in Neiman Marcus or Lord &
Taylor. Emulating those models is a good thing in retail because the
average shopper is female. And women are more sensitive to color,
texture and pattern."
Books are the focus of floor three with, on average, 50,000 titles
including textbooks, tradebooks and magazines, and the number one
best seller is "Elements of Style" by Strunk and White. The
book area, says Sykes, is the real showpiece of the remodeling job.
Window seats take advantage of the views overlooking the university’s
Blair Arch. "In our study, people said they knew what they wanted
for the book area," Sykes says. "They wanted someplace
where friends could congregate and enjoy books."
"It is an academic, library type environment," says Daggett.
"The dark wood, leather chairs and green carpet add to that."
Next year, at the University Place entrance, he plans to chop a hole
in the third floor so patrons can get visual access to where the books
Sykes also added to marketing director Virginia France’s budget.
says the "small" budget is standard for the industry and
approximately 2.5 percent of the estimated $10 million revenue in
sales. While the store wants to be inviting to townspeople, its print
advertising budget is limited.
But France’s department has expanded to include both a graphics
and someone whose sole job is to coordinate events, John Takacs. Those
who come to hear authors will, Takacs hopes, return to shop at the
U-Store. He is bringing in six to eight authors a month, many with
a Princeton connection, and is also staging musical evenings and
events. On Thursday, November 9, look for New Jersey US Senator Robert
Torricelli and on Monday, November 20, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and her
"Guide to College Life."
Much of the U-Store’s marketing is slanted to the U-Store’s web site
(www.pustore.com), where shoppers can purchase over 500,000 text book
and trade book titles and Princeton brand products. Students can get
their purchases packaged and waiting for them at the store or
to their dorm rooms.
Sykes says the U-Store is poised help students and townspeople avoid
the shlep to malls and other booksellers. Micawber Books store owner
Logan Fox says his store noted an increase in traffic this summer
when the U-Store was closed down for construction. Now it’s not clear
how the humanities-focused independent book seller with about 50,000
new and used titles will fare.
Micawber does seem to have the advantage of its location in the middle
of town on Nassau Street, across from the university. But for the
book lover who also wants to shop for music and/or drink coffee, Route
1 leads the way to heaven and the big book sellers, Borders Books
Music Cafe at Nassau Park and Barnes & Noble at MarketFair.
It’s definitely one-stop-shopping at these big box stores when it
comes to books, periodicals, events, and music. Both sponsor a
of events — book discussion groups, author readings, music and
story time for children, educators nights, writers groups, and live
"That’s great that the U-Store was renovated," says Nancy
Nicholson, Barnes & Noble community outreach coordinator. "We
love the U-Store and we feel like they’re our neighbors. But I don’t
view them as competition. Books are like theater. When people are
exposed to theater, they tend to see more."
"We accept the fact that we can never have as many titles as
& Noble," says Sykes. "We’re more academic. We don’t have
as much fiction and romance, but we do have best sellers."
The oldest of three children, Sykes grew up with retail
talk around the dinner table in Seattle, where his father worked in
a department store. He was an economics major at the University of
Washington, Class of 1978, and previously worked at a regional
store in Seattle, a start-up children’s chain store, and Belk’s, a
large independent department store chain, generally focused on
and young adult merchandise. At Belk’s, he was divisional merchandise
manager, responsible for more than 240 stores.
Children’s merchandisers really operate a "store within a
says Sykes. Not only do they sell clothes, but they also sell books
and educational games and gifts. "It taught me to be able to look
at different businesses and see them as a whole."
"The U-Store is intellectually stimulating — dealing with
all kinds of requirements and different kinds of peaks and
says Sykes. Apparel has one set of rules but books are completely
different and electronics and convenience are yet again different.
He and his wife, Vicky, have three children, and she works from their
Newtown home as regional marketing manager of Carter’s Children’s
Wear. Their oldest son is a freshman music education major at the
University of Illinois, and Sykes says that taking his son to college
"gave me a whole new perspective on the college experience,
the bookstore as a parent, buying souvenirs, and buying for the dorm
Sykes has spent money on technology; he beefed up the computers in
management offices and added Price Look Up (PLU) scanning plus a
credit card approval system. U-Store consumers can look forward to
additional renovations such as better lighting, a copy shop, another
elevator, a film processing center, and a coffee bar on the book
But Sykes is also following the board’s mandate to make this store
look like it belongs in Princeton. Four columns rise from the basement
to the third floor, and in the next couple of months these columns
will be arrayed with Princetoniana. "They will be outposts of
celebrating what goes on in Princeton," says Sykes, "and they
will change every six months or so."
On the book floor, the columns will showcase Jeff Bezos (Princeton
’86 and founder of Amazon.com), Albert Einstein, and poet C.K.
The initial column displays on the second floor will highlight four
of the women’s athletic teams. The first floor’s columns will focus
on activities on the campus, such as the new Frist campus center and
the graduate school’s centennial celebration.
"Our objective is that, when you walk in the store and look
you will feel that you are at Princeton rather that any other
says Sykes. "That is an important component of what we are trying
— Dina Weinstein
Princeton 08540. James Sykes, president. 609-921-8500; fax,
Home page: www.Pustore.com.
For those who think they might want a retail job, Quaker
Bridge Mall is having a job fair on Saturday, October 28, from noon
to 5 p.m. at the mall on Route 1. Admission is free. Call 609-799-8177
The title, "Take This Job and Love It," refers to how people
with retail jobs really do like what they do, says Felicia Pollaro,
the mall’s marketing manager. "It’s an opportunity to meet the
people you would be working with in a more relaxed setting," she
says. "You can find out why the manager of Chick-Fil-A loves his
job, and why you may love working there, too."
Retailers at the mall asked the owner, the Krafco Company, to sponsor
the fair because they want to have their stores fully staffed. The
mall has four anchors — Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Sears, and JC
and more than 120 shops and restaurants.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.