Cheney bookstore owner Bill Malley doesn’t want to fight with his big university neighbors.
He just wants a little of their action.
Malley sells new and used textbooks in the basement of 1st Street Books, undercutting the Eastern Washington University bookstore by about 10 percent.
“I get the feeling they just don’t know what to do about us,” Malley said.
Eastern students and those on just about every other campus have long complained about the high cost of textbooks, and the fact most universities in the region have a monopoly on the business.
Malley is changing that in Cheney.
He and son-in-law Allan Gainer blanketed town with posters and fliers enticing students with promises of savings.
“I figured it was worth 20 minutes of my time to walk down here,” said sophomore Anthony Beam of Newport.
Last week, Beam bought a used textbook for his modern government class for $36, saving $5.50 over the price for the book at the campus bookstore. New, the same text was priced at $51.48 at Malley’s store and $55.35 at the University Bookstore.
Beam saved another $5 on an English textbook, making his 20-minute trip worth about $10.
For penny-pinching students, everything helps. “I try to save as much money as I can because I’m on an extremely tight budget,” Beam said.
A lot of students sell their used textbooks for extra cash, and Malley pays about a third of the original price.
Liesl Davenport, a senior, got $22 for a six-disc set of classical music. She said she’s become a loyal 1st Street Books customer because of the savings.
“I try to buy all my books here,” she said.
Apparently, someone is feeling the heat on campus. Signs are posted on the university textbook racks promising to beat the price of any local competitor.
There’s only one competitor: Malley.
Stefanie Pettit, spokeswoman for the university, said students must show a receipt or proof of a competitor’s price to get the savings. So far, no students have taken advantage of the offer.
“We certainly have no problem with a competing bookstore,” Pettit said.
The university supplies book lists to Gainer and Malley, she said, and helped them when they opened their textbook shop two years ago.
Having two stores in town can be an advantage, Pettit said. “If we run out of a certain something we can send students down there.”
Despite lower prices, textbooks in Malley’s store are hardly cheap. Among the costliest, the “Principles of Genetics” goes for $83.70.
Malley blames the publishing industry for the high prices. His mark-up on new books is about 15 percent.
“It’s outrageous,” said junior Justin Dingwald, who spent about $250 on books this quarter.
Malley’s is one of only two off-campus bookstores in the state. The other is in Ellensburg, he said. He figures he gets about 4 percent of the total book sales to Eastern students. Those sales may amount to as much as $4.8 million a year, he said, and his goal is to get 10 percent of that business.
The store is housed inside a century-old building in the heart of Cheney’s downtown. The main floor is devoted to novels and non-fiction books for the general public. The textbooks are in the basement.
Son-in-law Gainer manages the textbook sales. He uses the university’s own information to prepare a price list that he distributes widely on campus.
Last Wednesday, the third day of fall quarter, most of Malley’s supply already was sold. Students were being turned away one after another.
Malley said he could stock and sell more books, but that would risk having too many unsold volumes gathering dust.
“It takes months of planning to get set up and ordered,” said Gainer.
Because they are using the university’s public information to run their business, Malley and Gainer said they want to maintain cordial relations with the folks on the hill.
“We’re in a position where we have to keep what little good will we have,” Malley said.
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