Ask Me Another

College store director Sarah Emerson Potter ’77 has a unique acquaintance with Bates, thanks to both her role overseeing one of the most–visited places on campus and her long history here. Potter started at the store when, dropping in for a pad of paper, she accepted the manager’s offer of a temporary position as text buyer. That was in 1980.

Q: What’s the store’s mission?
A: Course materials for students at the lowest possible cost. But, of course, we are a marketing arm of the institution, we’re a gathering place, we’re a social wheel. We listen to alumni stories, talk with concerned parents, share the institution’s strengths with prospective parents and students.

Q: How do sales break down by category?

A: Textbooks are the biggest seller. I would guess that 60 percent of our sales are texts, clothing maybe 20 percent, things with the Bates imprint are 10 to 15 percent. If general books are 5 percent, I’d be surprised. I’d love to have us be more of a bookstore.

Q: What’s the textbook pricing policy?
A: The textbook business operates at a loss, because the profit margin is fairly low. We aim for the highest percentage of used books that we can, because that’s the student’s best value. Clothing margins are among the highest, to account for the losses in textbooks.

Q: What’s the most popular item?
A: Hooded sweatshirts. It’s funny—when I started buying, you couldn’t give a hooded sweatshirt away. Those gray crewneck sweatshirts with “Bates” across the front in maroon, we sold them by the boatload. Now it’s completely flip–flopped, and hoodies outsell crewnecks two or three to one.

Q: How do your own tastes inform what’s in the store?
A: I order all the clothing, so if there’s a design that doesn’t seem like it would work at Bates, that’s probably a reflection of my taste. I can go to a football game and look out at the sea of people and what they’re wearing, and realize that I ordered all of it.

Q: That must be a great feeling.
A: Well, it is and it isn’t, because some things look so awful that it’s like, “What was I thinking?” One year we ordered a shorts–and–tops set that looked like it had come from some bad Hawaiian fabric shop. It was just the grossest combo plate. The vendors told us they were being sold everywhere—I’d be surprised if we sold one. So we ended up putting them out as an “oops” sale, as we called it back then.

Q: When did you start the summer “Non-Required Reading List”?

A: 2004 was our eighth year. At first we put out about 40, and now we do 350 copies. Contributors have doubled, and people look forward to it—I live for it. Sawyer Sylvester [professor of sociology] always sends the best list. His choices run the gamut: a book on fingerprinting, Harry Potter, mysteries, a book on the color mauve. It’s like getting a gift.

On the Web: The 2004 “Non-Required Reading List” at