After 18 months of construction, the new Barnes & Noble at University of Houston bookstore celebrated with a grand opening event. Students, faculty, university administrators and vendor partners filled the store as more than a hundred guests enjoyed a ribbon cutting ceremony, cake, free gifts and giveaways. The event not only showcased the completely renovated bookstore as an inviting social hub, but also represented the University’s mission of ‘community and culture.’
Visitors to the new store will find a vastly improved two-story layout where they can enjoy an expanded selection of University of Houston merchandise and apparel on the first level and textbooks and academic supplies on the lower level. With the new shopper-friendly layout, the store was able to better optimize the shopping experience for its customers. Changing the design of the space also allowed the store to expand its lounge and study areas and include a technology bar where students and faculty can sit and plug in.
“Every time I go into the store, it’s constantly filled with students studying, socializing and relaxing,” said Marc Eckhart, Barnes & Noble College regional manager. “You can tell they love the new space. It’s truly become the social hub we hoped it would be.”
Renovations to the bookstore began in 2012 as part of the school’s plan to transform the building into an impressive new student center, now known as the University Center. In addition to the bookstore, the University Center also houses a new theater, expanded meeting and event spaces, a new food service cafeteria, and much more, making it – and the bookstore – a true campus destination.
Another major goal for Barnes & Noble College was to ensure that the bookstore showcased the university’s brand and unique culture. Working closely with university representatives, student groups and other members of the campus community, the design team incorporated elements that highlight the university’s history and diversity. Plaques on each column of the store represent each college of the University, while the Houston skyline can be seen on the wall of the stairway.
Perhaps the most celebrated element of the new bookstore, however, is the iconic mural. Painted in 1972 by two student artists as a celebration of the school’s Mexican-American heritage, the mural had been the centerpiece of the former student meeting space, the Cougar Den, for the past 40 years.
“The mural has garnered so much attention in the bookstore,” said Felix Robinson, the store’s general manager. “It’s really made the students feel like the bookstore is connected to the school’s culture. Preserving it was vital to all of us, as we know it represents an important part of the university’s history.”
Esmeralda Valdez, Executive Director, Auxiliary Services at the University of Houston, agrees that the new store is very student-focused. “The team was very sensitive to the needs of the university as a whole, but most importantly to the needs of the students,” Valdez said. “Students feel real ownership over the new store. It’s created this new sense of pride and stewardship, and really validates what we’re all here to do.”
The new bookstore stands as a true testament to the 27-year partnership that is shared between the University and Barnes & Noble College. With a strong spirit of collaboration throughout each step of the process, all parties worked together to create the kind of campus store that the University of Houston envisioned. “I think the university sees us as part of their team – and that’s really our goal – to be more than just an outside vendor, but a true partner,” explained Robinson. “We have strong relationships on campus and great support from the University, so everything we do is geared towards helping the university achieve its vision and goals – and this beautiful new store is helping us do exactly that.”
Valdez agrees. “Our partnership with Barnes & Noble College is extremely valuable, not only to us, but to our students,” she said. “They really understand our students and want them to be successful. Having a partner that is always a step ahead, always looking for innovative ways to serve our students, has made a huge difference on this campus.”