For 150 years, the Bethel Campus Store has provided apparel, textbooks and college necessities.
By Hannah Hunhoff
Every weekday morning at 10 a.m. the chain gate of the Bethel Campus Store is lifted and students rush in to pick up their textbook orders. Introduction to Bible. Christian Theology. Christianity and Western Culture. Students eye the rows of Bethel-branded notebooks, Bibles and various office supplies. Frequently, students purchase classic Bethel collegiate sweatshirts, a clothing article bound to be passed down to their grandchildren one day.
Since Bethel University broke ground in 1871, the campus store in all three of the institution’s locations has played an instrumental role in providing students with college necessities.
At the first Bethel University campus on Snelling Ave. near the Minnesota State Fair fairgrounds, the Campus Store was referred to as “Bargain Bob’s Bookstore.” Shanna Stoll, a Bethel alum and employee, said that her mother attended the university in the late 1960s and remembered the man who ran the store, Bob Bergerud.
“They sold books, pencils, pens, Bethel pennants and maybe one sweatshirt,” Stoll said. “But it was primarily books back then.”
In Bethel’s first Arden Hills location, the Campus Store stood adjacent to the post office. Stoll remembers the lively and bustling environment of the store when she worked as a student employee 1992 to 1996.
“Right before classes started, it was insanely busy because no one could order their textbooks online, and [they] had to walk in to pick up their books,” Stoll said. “You would look for [your class] and you would find that they only had four books.”
Bethel announced its grand opening of the George K. Brushaber Commons space March 26, 2009. Reportedly doubling in size, the new campus store was specifically designed in a circle format to promote a welcoming environment.
The limited range of products has evolved and expanded in the last decade, but its primary purpose of existing to serve the Bethel community remains. Many of the store’s employees, including Campus Store Director Jill Sonsteby, Customer Service Merchandiser Brenda Edinger and Textbook Manager Dodi Woodis have contributed to its transformation over the years.
“Between the three of us, we have over a century of retail experience, and that gives us the confidence to know the best practices and good business decisions that we make in the campus store,” said Sonsteby. “But it also gives us the wisdom to know when we need to be flexible and what works for a store in our community.”
The Bethel Campus Store staff can attest that the most noticeable change that has taken place over the past decade of the store is the advancement of the textbooks and educational materials, particularly in the form of online orders and digital textbooks.
“I’d been here about six months when we hit one thousand online orders,” said Woodis, who has worked for the store for 12 years. “This fall, we just passed order 30,540.”
In the process of Bethel students ordering their textbooks online, many choose to purchase a digital textbook— a more affordable and accessible option. 140 courses currently utilize digital textbooks.
Reflecting on the drastic price difference between the two different book options, Edinger said that a roughly $300 physical copy biology class bundle would amount to only $100 with the digital direct option.
“I always looked forward to purchasing the textbooks for my history courses,” said Bethel’s Research and Instruction Librarian Earleen Warner. “I couldn’t wait to see what I would be learning.”
Two of Warner’s books from the original Bethel Campus Store in around 1975, “Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther” by Roland Bainton ($1.50, used) and “Reformation Europe 1517-1559” by G.R. Elton ($5.75, new), remain in her office bookshelves to this day.
The Campus Store’s rows of specialty devotionals, tech items and wide range of collegiate apparel are evidence of the employees’ work in identifying trends that interest the student body.
“We keep our ear to the ground for fashion and shop outside Bethel to see what’s happening,” Edinger said. “Students really like the classic look and their parents like it too, so we have kept it really core.”
Several years ago, Edinger was intrigued by a student’s vintage Bethel College sweater. She later learned that the student had discovered the sweatshirt in his grandpa’s closet, which alludes to the timeless fashion of classic apparel.
To this day, Sonsteby said that classic apparel is the “bread and butter” of what they sell to students.
The staff’s devotion to student involvement is related to their work of fostering a highly collaborative work environment, granting student workers of all majors the autonomy needed to purposefully use their gifts.
“It’s great seeing those nursing students with that attention to detail just dig into filling a student’s online order to make sure that every ISP on every book, whether it’s an e-book, loose-leaf, hard-cover, a new or used, is filled correctly,” Woodis said.
All three primary staff members enjoy seeing their student workers thrive in their specific duties at the Campus Store and value their feedback in the process.
“My favorite part about working at the Campus Store is definitely the community that [Sonsteby] tries to build,” Campus Store employee and sophomore business major Grace Bonfig said. “I just really like the easy-going but formal atmosphere.”
When the clock hits 4 p.m., the Bethel Campus Store begins to practice what Sonsteby calls the “slow close.” Before officially closing down the store for the day, they are intentional about kindly interacting with the customers remaining in the store. Somsteby said that the process involves hospitality, personal connection and conversation.
“One of the things that I really enjoy is from my office, where I can hear students at the cash registers singing,” said Sonsteby. “And I know when they’re singing, they are happy and at home.”