In the lower level of the Yale Bookstore, wedged between the foreign language section and the Clinique counter, a small but colorful garden has sprouted.
Its flowers beckon to the passing shopper with colors crazier than tulips in March: bright red, pastel, sequined, plaid. Some are plastic, and some are cloth, some have heels — and none are appropriate for New Haven’s rain or snow.
Upstairs, customers may flip through books, but downstairs they sort through flip-flops. In total, the bookstore sells three versions of “The Great Gatsby” and five of “War and Peace.” Downstairs in its burgeoning “Accessories” section, which managers have dubbed “Flip-Flop World,” the bare-footed customer can choose between over 30 varieties of thonged sandals.
“Flip-flops are huge year-round,” employee Andrea Snyder said as she surveyed the lower level from her post at the Clinique counter. “We have dressier ones, fancier ones, ones with heels.”
And if the literature-weary customer tires of shoes, he or she need only look about to see all sorts of wonders not usually found in a bookstore. From furniture to kitchen appliances to makeup, the bookstore sells it all. Although books and school supplies remain the store’s meat-and-potatoes, flip-flops are just one symptom of the bookstore’s growing general-store status.
This year, the bookstore carries more general merchandise than ever before, store manager Neil LeBeau said. Since Barnes and Noble opened on Broadway in 1997, the store has gradually increased and diversified its offerings.
“Our goal is to be a one-stop shop,” LeBeau said. “In the past three years we’ve seen our merchandise and business increase.”
Pillows, lamps and shelving are non-book basics; the bookstore now sells these items all year, and doubles or triples its stock for the back-to-school rush. Other larger dorm items, such as area rugs, are only sold at the beginning of the year.
The bookstore’s real area of expansion is what can only be labeled “non-essentials.” Feng Shui candles, Kenneth Cole Reaction purses, $30 “Boys Have Cooties” pajama bottoms and Bally Total Fitness calorie counters comprise only a handful of the store’s extraneous items.
In between buying economics textbooks and binders, customers get sidetracked and wander with a dazed look through makeup displays.
Anna Yu ’08 paused in her shopping Monday to try on various colors of “PLUMP” lipgloss; earlier, Katharine Jan ’08 perused the Clinique counter which sits next to the greeting cards like a small outpost of a department store.
“Clinique is very popular,” Snyder said. “It’s very surprising, we have loyal customers who come in constantly.”
Clinique makeup and leather journals are not for the bargain hunter; nor are some of the newer items offered this year such as the futon and chairs sitting prominently at the base of the bookstore stairs. The full-sized futon pad comes with a price tag of $134.98. At furnishing giant Bed, Bath and Beyond, a similar pad can be found for $39.99.
Because the Bookstore does not buy these items in bulk, it must charge much more than value price, LeBeau said.
“I think there is a lot of merchandise … where we just can’t be competitive,” he said. “The pricing is all kind of a function of how much we buy.”
Convenience, however, levels the playing field. With no Bed, Bath and Beyond within walking distance of Campus, the Bookstore can get away with its more expensive items. And paying by bursar — by which Yalies charge to a University account some students’ parents fund — adds to the ease and allure of shopping at the Bookstore.
Dambudzo Muzenda ’07 bought a rug at the bookstore just around the corner from her Morse College room.
“I generally wanted to make my room comfy, and I knew the bookstore had odds and ends,” she said. “It’s close to Morse, which makes life easier.”
Despite the price difference, all the futons and mini-futons sold out the weekend after dorms opened, Snyder said.
“These folks are traveling a long way to get back to Yale,” LeBeau said. “They just don’t want to haul all that stuff.”
Although LeBeau admits the Bookstore often cannot keep up with the prices of its competitors, he said it has made large improvements in the more traditional textbook department.
The book buy-back program has placed more used textbooks on the shelves than ever before. LeBeau said he has received positive feedback from students happily surprised by the larger number of used textbooks now available.
And if textbooks, candles or “Peaches and Cream” lotion do not rev that consumer urge, there’s always the swimsuit section.
Janey Symington ’07 and Megan Toal ’07 stopped next to the men’s underwear and contemplated their unexpected discovery of swimwear.
“They do have a men’s Speedo, if all else fails,” Symington said.