Editorial / For book lovers, this will be heaven on earth
Published 4:29 pm, Thursday, July 7, 2011
While imparting an analytical thought process that promotes lifelong learning, the Jesuits are committed to "finding God in all things."
Whether our Jesuit friends from North Benson Road found God in a vacant retail space on Post Road would be for them to say. But book lovers can consider it a godsend that the university plans to move its bookstore into the former Borders Books location downtown and stock it as a full-service, retail operation -- complete with a 50-seat cafe.
The relocation from campus to the downtown business district will fill two voids: one, 23,000 square feet of highly visible retail space; two, a gaping hole in the heart of the local book-buying public that had seemed irreparable.
Moreover, the move will transport a dose of academic culture from the ivory tower to street level and introduce to downtown a large -- and largely ignored -- class of shoppers: students from mostly well-heeled families with credit cards in their pockets.
The town is populated by educated people who love books, and when the bankrupt Borders chain announced in March it would pull the plug on the local store in May, the gasps of agony echoed throughout town.
With rival Barnes & Noble also in bankruptcy, it seemed any bid to attract a significant bookseller to Fairfield didn't -- if you'll pardon the expression -- have a prayer.
Little did we realize a massive, institutional book concern already in town was eager to open a new chapter in its operations.
The university contracts out management of its bookstore to Follett Higher Education Group, which may be the biggest chain of bookstores you've never heard of. It runs more than 900 college and university bookstores across North America -- 40 percent more stores than Borders was operating last month.
With its broad network of stores, Follett brings to downtown Fairfield market expertise, purchasing power and economies of scale that no boutique chain -- certainly no independent book dealer -- could approach. And with that, it seems, is long-term stability. In addition to a variety of books, the initial merchandising plan offers a town-gown mix that would merge two cultures in a one-for-all and all-for-one way. The store will stock not only Fairfield University Stags attire and merchandise, but also items branded for Fairfield's Ludlowe and Warde high schools, plus the university-affiliated Fairfield College Preparatory School. What better way to get local teens to log off their smart phones and iPads and browse around a bookstore for a while? That the university is negotiating to bring a computer retailer in, too, is the cherry atop the sundae.
The Rev. Jeffrey von Arx, the university president, said the school would use the venue for lectures by scholars, discussions by authors and other intellectual and
Many of those events on campus have been open to the public. But to bring them to an inviting, egalitarian spot downtown signals a new era in town-gown relations -- relations that seem to get only negative attention when beach-area residents complain about student parties there.
An active bookstore with an academic accent, where ideas are shared and good coffee is served, will compliment one of the state's best and busiest public libraries just a few blocks east and the broader downtown arts scene.
Call it Devine intervention. Call it a business deal made in heaven. Call it what you will.
But when the store opens in October, we recommend the mood music be the Hallelujah Chorus.