Save Penn Book Center

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On April 8, 2019 the independent bookstore at 34th& Walnut, Penn Book Center, announced that it will close at the end of May due to financial hardship. This closure would mean an immeasurable loss to Penn’s intellectual community and to that of the surrounding University City neighborhood. We write to ask that the university find a way to help sustain this small but vital corner of our campus.
 
Penn Book Center has been the heart of literary and academic culture on Penn’s campus since it was founded in 1962 and taken over by current owners Ashley Montague (Penn English Ph.D., Class of 1999) and Michael Row in 2005. For many years PBC supplied textbooks for Penn students, but in the past two years PBC has been forced to discontinue textbook sales and focus wholly on trade sales and community events. It has continued to be a store that carries books that are not found in other bookstores, books that appeal to the intellectual interests and research specializations of faculty and students.
 
Currently Penn Book Center hosts packed-house poetry and book readings in partnership with Blue Stoop, the ICA, and Penn’s Center for Africana Studies. It has invited amazing authors like Helen Zia, Rebecca Traister, Eve Ewing, Carol Anderson, and Eileen Myles. PBC is an incredibly vibrant space, like no other in University City.
 
Our peer institution Princeton University subsidizes text book sales at 30% off list price to encourage students to buy books at Labyrinth, their independent campus bookstore, which provides a valuable bridge between the campus and off-campus communities.  Penn is a much larger university, one that can be served by both a Barnes & Noble and Penn Book Center. We believe that of all universities, Penn, with its strengths in business innovation, is capable of finding a solution to this problem.
 
We commend the President’s Office for promoting initiatives like the MacArthur 100%Change Competition and the President’s Engagement/Innovation Prizes that reward students who “make a substantial, sustainable impact in the world.” Now is the time for the university to stand behind its commitments to sustainability and social innovation. We ask that Penn meet with Penn Book Center to work out a strategy to keep the bookstore in business.
 
Penn Book Center, like other thriving independent bookstores, is more than a retail bookseller. It is, as the director of the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago puts it, “a cultural institution disguised as a retailer.”
 



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