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Collections | Digital Collections | Vanderbilt University History

The Vanderbilt Bookstore
A Brief History

Research:  Lyle Lankford
Fall 2011
Sources:  Board of Trust Minutes; Vanderbilt telephone directories;
The Hustler; The Comet; Vanderbilt Alumnus.

In the early years of the University, Vanderbilt students were obliged to purchase text books and supplies from local merchants, many of whom advertised in The Comet (university yearbook first published in 1887) and the campus newspaper, The Hustler (first published in 1888). 

The first of these advertisements appearing in the 1887 Comet reads: 

“Hunter & Co., Wholesale Booksellers and Stationers, 59 North Market Street, Nashville, TN.  Keep the completest, freshest, neatest stock of School Books and General Stationery in the South, and the cheapest.  Write for terms and any book you want.”  (Market St., now 2nd Ave.) 

Robertson's Drug Store ad
Robertson's Drug Store ad from
The Comet, 1887


Another ad. from that publication reads: 

“Robertson’s Drug Store.  Drugs, Medicines and Chemicals, Toilet and Fancy Articles, Soaps and Perfumery, Tobacco and Cigars, Vanderbilt Text-Books, and Stationery.  Prescriptions Carefully Compounded at all Hours.  No. 5 West End Avenue.” 



Another ad. reads: 

“Students’ Supplies.  We Supply Text-books to Students at the Lowest Possible Price, and we also furnish Outfits for Amateur, Athletic and Base Ball Clubs at Eastern Prices.  Students are respectfully invited to make our store headquarters when down town, and to write us for anything they want in our line after they have returned to their respective homes.  Wheeler, Osborn & Duckworth Manufacturing Co.  20 North Cherry Street.”  (now 4th Ave.)

And finally from 1887, this ad: 

“West End Drug Store, Headquarters for Vanderbilt Text Books and Students’ Supplies.  A Full and Complete Line of Standard Drawing Instruments and Materials, Guaranteed to give satisfaction to students and meet the approval of the Professors.  Wm. D. Mayo, 558 Broad Street (now Broadway).”

Advertisements appearing in the September 24, 1891 Hustler included:

“T.H. Hard and Co., 413 –  415 Church Street, for your School Books & School Supplies.  We Buy, sell, and exchange old books.  Orders taken for any book published.”

“Bunch’s Drug Store.  The Old Reliable.  Texts and Blank Books. College Stationery and choice lot of smoking material.”  (Bunch’s was located at 1604 West End Avenue.)

“The only house that carries full line of Vanderbilt Text Books.  Hunter and Welburn, Book Sellers and Stationers, 314 North Market Street.”

The first evidence of a bookstore located on the Vanderbilt campus comes in the 1895 – ’96 academic year with an advertisement in the September 19, 1895 issue of The Hustler.  The ad reads: 

“Vanderbilt Bookstore.  All the text books needed by the students, stationery, etc. are kept in a newly fitted up office on the first floor of the main building (now Kirkland Hall).  This is now strictly a department of the University, and everything will be done for the convenience of the students.  E.B. Huiet, manager.”

However, according to Board of Trust minutes of June 17, 1895, a University book store had been “conducted for several years past” (probably four) by a faculty-appointed student, who was “allowed to make what he could” from the business conducted from a room in the Main Building.  The faculty’s purpose in establishing the store was “to accommodate students by having the book store at hand and also to sell to them at rates somewhat cheaper than those generally allowed by the city book sellers.” When the student who had been in charge of the store from its beginning left the University, it was decided that if such a store were “to become permanent and remain successful,” it should be “included in the general office organization of the University” and should be managed “in connection with the Secretary’s office.”  Mr. Huiet, who also planned to enter a course of study at the University, was hired as manager for $40 per month with the expectation that he would work an average of five hours a day, devoting at least two hours to the bookstore, with additional hours given to office work as assigned by the Chancellor.

Chancellor James Kirkland
Chancellor James H. Kirkland

This arrangement proved to be a failure due to mismanagement.  The June 15, 1896 Board of Trust minutes indicate that Chancellor Kirkland himself took the responsibility of “cleaning up the problem.”  Book stock on hand was sold back to the publishers and the remainder sold to W.C. Welburn, whom the faculty had appointed to be in charge of the book store, thus returning to the former method of management with the University having no connection, other than the faculty approving the manager and the provision of space in the Main building.  Neither the University nor the faculty assumed financial responsibility.  (Mr. Welburn may have been the same gentleman, who was business partner in the firm, Hunter and Welburn, Book Sellers and Stationers, which had advertised in the 1891 Hustler.)

Appearing in the 1898 Comet, a few  years after the Vanderbilt Bookstore opened on campus, is a photograph of an establishment called “Vanderbilt Supply Store” located on West End Avenue “near campus”with J.H. Dix, proprietor. Mr. Dix advertised “Student Supplies, Cigars, Cigarettes, and Tobacco” with no mention of books.

By 1900, the Vanderbilt Bookstore was advertising “books, pencils, ink, examination books and a full line of stationery” with managers changing every few years.  For the several years of its existence on campus, the “Vanderbilt Book Store” apparently remained in the Main Building (or University Hall) with advertisements in both The Comet and The Hustler making no reference of change in location.  However, an ad appearing in The Hustler in the fall of 1908 refers to “Vanderbilt Book Store – located in the northeast corner of Kissam Hall.” (Old Kissam Hall men’s dormitory, built in 1900, was located on what is now Alumni Lawn.  The bookstore was probably located near the cafeteria located in the basement of old Kissam and could have been relocated there as early as 1905 following the fire which gutted University Hall.) 

From the March 1921 Vanderbilt Alumnus (V.6, N.5, pp. 136 -137), the announcement is made that the Vanderbilt Bookstore, which had been “owned and operated by Vanderbilt students” was being “taken over, reorganized, and operated as a department of the University as of April 15, 1921.“  The article states that the store was actually being purchased from the students and that the bookstore would “… be kept open throughout the day with someone regularly in charge.”    Board of Trust minutes from the June 6, 1921 meeting confirm this information, citing that “with the growth of the University, it has become impossible for students to handle satisfactorily.”  The University paid the students $2050 for the stock on hand and placed “management in the hands of Professor Gordon,” who was expected “to give supervision, not personal service, to the work.”  Chancellor Kirkland goes on to state that the book store was “not expected to be financially profitable, but expected to pay its own way and to repay the University the outlay in the beginning.”  

The earliest Vanderbilt telephone directories continue to locate the Vanderbilt Bookstore in Kissam Hall through 1928.  With the construction of new classroom buildings on campus in 1928, the Vanderbilt Bookstore was relocated to one of them.  Located at the north end of William Henry Calhoun Hall on the ground level, the Bookstore remained there until 1947. 

With the influx of young men returning from World War II, classroom space, as well as dormitory space, was at a premium.  Temporary barracks were built to accommodate the need for added space and the bookstore and post office were housed in one of those temporary spaces located near the present location of Rand Hall.  (Vanderbilt Alumnus, V.32, N.7, p.1, July/Aug. 1947; V.32, N.8, p.2, Sept. 1947)

With the opening of Rand Hall in the fall of 1953, the Vanderbilt Bookstore, along with the post office and cafeteria, found new and long-term homes.  But nothing is permanent on a university campus.  In late December of 1999, the Follett Corporation became a business partner operating the Vanderbilt Bookstore which continued at the Rand location.  In late 2011, Barnes and Noble, partnering with the University, began operation of the Vanderbilt Bookstore moving its location off the main campus to 2525 West End Avenue.  Thus, bookstore operations have come almost full circle since the University’s opening in 1875!