A Textbook Case

Word on the street--and on the Ave in particular--is that University Bookstore is in the midst of an identity crisis. To combat sinking sales figures, the bookstore recently hired the marketing firm Cole & Weber/Red Cell, whose Northwest clients have included Washington Mutual and Tillamook Cheese, to redesign University Bookstore's "brand," according to several sources with knowledge of the deal.

Some booksellers at the store feel the company already has a strong brand. "I thought we had an image," one bookseller told me. "We're one of the oldest bookstores in town. We're the largest independent."

"Their direction doesn't seem to be the direction of people who just love books," the employee added, referring to University Bookstore CEO Bryan Pearce and marketing director Sally McKenzie. The employee knew of no specific impending changes, but cited a movement toward "mainstream" and "less eccentric" buying and a stronger push on "Husky store stuff."

Uneasiness over the branding process, which is expected to continue into the summer, comes at a time when some people at the store are still upset over last week's departure of events director Kim Ricketts, who earned the store a reputation for compelling readings and lectures.

In an e-mail disseminated last week to various university students, faculty, and staff, and obtained by The Stranger, an anonymous bookstore employee wrote: "Sally [McKenzie], new marketing whiz, says she wants no more than 10 author events a month, focusing on 'big names like Jackie Chan'.... If she gets her way, our reputation as a bookstore in town will go promptly down the drain."

On Monday, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that Ricketts left under pressure to decrease the number of author events. Reached for comment Monday afternoon, McKenzie denied allegations that she's not "a book person" and said there were no plans to scale back the quantity or quality of University Bookstore's readings. "We're very committed to remaining a leader in events and are enforcing no changes at this point," she said.

Which isn't exactly what CEO Bryan Pearce had told me a week earlier. He said, "As far as future plans, we're still trying to determine where we're going and what we're trying to do."

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Good news, slackers: Richard Hugo House has extended its summer writer-in-residence application deadline to June 16. It's a sweet deal: You teach writing classes and hold open office hours once a week, and in exchange you get to live in Belltown for cheap. Visit www.hugohouse.org for more details.

frizzelle@thestranger.com

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