University Book Store at the University of Washington first opened for business on January 10, 1900 in a cloakroom next to the University president's office in Denny Hall. Two enterprising students who had learned of the existence of student stores on Eastern campuses are credited with establishing a student store at the UW. One of them was to become the store's first manager. Although the Student Assembly—later to become the ASUW—gave its moral support, no start-up capital was offered. Instead it was proposed that the store should be a self-supporting business.
The store opened with only a sparse inventory of goods that could be obtained from suppliers willing to extend credit. At the close of Spring Term, just four months after the store first opened, an accounting of the store's business showed it to be technically bankrupt and its ability to reopen for Fall Term appeared in doubt. However, two concerned faculty members stepped forward with words of encouragement and a gift of $100 to pay off the store's debt. The store did open for business in the fall and, although not without periods of distress, grew and prospered from that time forward. The $100 gift is the only outside capital invested in the store. Accumulated cash from operations and mortgage loans have been its only source of capital to this day.
During the early years, the store was managed by a succession of students each appointed to a one-year term and reporting directly to the Student Assembly. The store was operated only a few hours in mid-day so that the manager could attend classes. By 1907, the business had grown to the point that part-time student management no longer sufficed. The last of the part-time student managers became the store's first full-time manager, a position he would hold for fifteen more years. The ASUW retained oversight of the store's business affairs and, from time to time, appropriated store funds for its other activities.
As the store's business expanded, it was forced to move from one campus location to another, the last of which was in the basement of Meany Hall. In 1924, the UW College of Mines building was destroyed by fire, prompting an inspection of other buildings on campus. The University's fire marshal concluded that the large crowds of students going to and from the bookstore in the basement of Meany Hall threatened their safety and ordered the store to vacate the building. Since there was no other adequate space on campus, a hasty search was made for a nearby off-campus site. The closing of a pool hall in the building at 4326 University Way made a space available for rent, and the store was once again moved to what was thought to be only a temporary location.
The sudden appearance of a busy new store on the "Ave" surprised both neighboring merchants and shoppers. The bookstore quickly gained acceptance from a new and larger clientele with more varied shopping interests. Sales jumped by almost 25 percent during the first year in the location, and the severe business slumps between school openings lessened considerably. The benefits of an off-campus location were quickly realized. In 1927, the rented building was purchased and became the store's permanent headquarters. Just three years later, the adjacent building was purchased and renovated. That same year, the store returned its first cash rebate to UW students, a practice that would become a major continuing element in the store's operating philosophy.
The Great Depression brought major consequences both to the UW and its student book store. In 1927, the ASUW had financed the construction of Clarence "Hec" Edmundson Pavilion largely by issuing interest bearing bonds. As these bonds began to mature during the height of the Depression, the ASUW found it increasingly difficult to make the necessary payments, and rumors of a possible bankruptcy surfaced. Since the bookstore was the most valuable asset held by the ASUW, its legal separation came to light as a means to both help the ASUW and protect the store. The store was hastily incorporated on April 29, 1932, and by pledging its assets immediately borrowed $50,000 from four banks, $30,000 of which was loaned to the ASUW. Over the next several years, the ASUW was able to recover and paid off its loan from the store.
At the time of incorporation, 1,000 shares of capital stock were issued—933 shares to the ASUW and seven shares to the board of trustees organized to direct the affairs of the new corporation. The members of the board included four students and three faculty. By its actions, the ASUW had retained its ownership of the store but had passed direct supervision of management to an appointed group of representatives. Operating as an independent corporate entity, the store became a more professional and responsive business that could better meet the needs of its growing clientele.
At the time of incorporation, the store's merchandising categories included textbooks, general books, classroom supplies, office products, sporting goods, and sportswear. During the following fifteen years, photography, music, and gifts were added to the product mix. The store continued to expand by adding a third floor to existing adjacent property. Although the store had operated small temporary campus branches earlier, the first permanent branch store opened in the Husky Union Building in 1961. This was followed in 1969 by a second branch store in the University's medical school building.
The flagship store in the U District.
A significant change in the store's organization came in 1964 following a comprehensive review by University administration of the University's relationship with the ASUW and, indirectly, with the bookstore. One of several results of this review was a change in the legal status of the store. It was concluded that the store had operated as an implied trust since its incorporation and that the trust should be formalized. A trust agreement was prepared and then adopted by the UW Board of Regents, the ASUW Board of Control, and the University Book Store Board of Trustees. This agreement set out the purpose of the trust; described the appointment, responsibilities, and authority of the trustees; and identified UW students, faculty, and staff as beneficiaries of the trust.
The board was increased to nine members by adding a forth faculty trustee and an administrative trustee. At the same time the ASUW agreed to transfer all of its stock to the store's board of trustees to hold "in trust" for students, faculty, and staff of the University. The trustees now had two roles to play. As trustees and shareholders, they were obliged to ensure that the corporation upheld the purpose of the trust. By electing themselves directors of the corporation, they assumed the responsibilities of establishing the store's strategic direction and directing the store's management.
On the surface, the acceptance of the trust and the related transfer of stock might have left some with the impression that students had given up their influence over the store's affairs. In reality, the trust had preserved and emphasized their original purposes in starting the store—serving the academic needs and saving money for them wherever possible. The transfer of stock served to more clearly identify the store as an independent business entity. It could no longer be construed to be an agency of the University. The store had taken on many of the characteristics of a consumer cooperative with its "members" being UW students, faculty, and staff and its governing board comprised of "members." The store's practice of annually returning rebates, or patronage refunds, to beneficiaries resembles the practice of co-ops returning dividends to members based on their purchases.
Although the store's legal status has remained unchanged since 1964, its operating and merchandising practices continued to evolve. In 1971, the Health Sciences store moved to a new and larger location in the South Campus Student Union Building. In 1977, the store increased the floor area of the U District Store by 40 percent to 90,000 square feet. In 1982, the HUB store was relocated and doubled in size. In 1987, a 22,000 square foot store was opened in downtown Bellevue. Although the "Ave" store had for decades attracted customers from throughout the greater Seattle area, the Bellevue store marked the first time the bookstore had conducted business from a site away from the UW campus.
In 1991, stores were opened in Bothell and Tacoma to serve a fast growing population of UW customers in Snohomish County, and the book store café was introduced at the U District store. In 2010, a 2,000 square foot store focusing on UW Husky apparel, souvenirs, books, and supplies was opened in downtown Seattle at 4th and Union as part of the UW Husky Central project. In 2016, the Health Sciences store was closed and all specialty books and supplies for UW Medicine moved to our more centrally located U District store on the Ave.
In 2005, the board was increased to eleven members by creating a fifth student trustee position and adding the store's chief executive officer. After conducting a survey of UW staff and students, The Pack Rewards™, an instant rewards program for UW and Cascadia College students, faculty, and staff, replaced the UW Customer Rebate on August 1, 2015. Today, the program offers members a multitude of benefits, ranging from 10% savings on Husky gear and new and used books to monthly café specials, savings on school and art supplies, and preferred seating at select author events.
Although it is one of more than 5,000 college stores in the United States, University Book Store can be likened to very few. It is third in total sales volume and leads all college stores in the sale of books and supplies. It is one of only a few that are organized as independent, tax paying corporations with direct student involvement on the board of directors.