After 84 years in business, the Co-op Bookstore, which pioneered selling used textbooks to financially strapped LSU students, is closing Saturday.
Bob Prescott, who has co-owned the bookstore with his brother Billy since 1972, said the decision was made to shut down the business so they could retire.
“We got tired of it,” said Prescott, 73, sitting back in a second-floor break room of the bookstore earlier this week. While there were still some gifts and books available, large sections of the bookstore were empty, with disassembled shelves stacked on the floor. “Sales are going down and we just wanted to retire.”
Sales at Co-op Bookstore have dropped in recent years as more students go to Amazon.com and other online retailers to buy their textbooks. And projects in architecture, landscape architecture, interior design and graphic design classes are now done electronically and don’t require physical models, reducing the demand for art and construction supplies. “Nothing is being done manually anymore,” Prescott said.
Prescott’s father, W.A., co-founded the bookstore in 1933. Ironically, given the deep ties the business developed with LSU, Prescott had no connection to Baton Rouge. He was from Brewton, Alabama, and graduated from the University of Alabama.
“He was working for the Goodyear Tire Co. for two years,” Bob Prescott said. “He was home one Christmas, and his brother-in-law, who worked for the bookstore at the University of Alabama, said he decided to open up a bookstore and asked him to go into business. I don’t know why they picked LSU.”
W.A. Prescott was the first local retailer to sell used textbooks to college students who were looking for ways to stretch a dollar. He also did other things to help students with limited resources.
W.A. Prescott operated a kind of pawn shop with textbooks. Students would sell their books to the store and he would re-shelve them, with their name inside, waiting for the student to scrape up enough money to buy the books back.
During World War II and the Korean War, W.A. Prescott also helped LSU students who were fighting abroad. He worked with the university’s distance learning department to mail textbooks for free to students all across the globe, so they could finish course work and stay on track to graduate.
Bob Prescott said the former head of the department told his father: “If not for you, I would have gone out of business.”
The bookstore opened on West Chimes Street and Highland Road, gradually expanding over the years. In 1972, a fire destroyed the building, forcing a temporary move to Nicholson Drive. The bookstore then moved to the former University Shopping Center off Highland, which was its home until a January 2004 move into the Southgate Village shopping center 3960 Burbank Drive. In October, the owners of Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar bought the 27,000-square-foot building for $2.7 million, with plans to relocate their headquarters there.
During the last days of the Co-op Bookstore, Bob Prescott said former employees and customers have been posting thanks on social media and making visits in person.
“We have had the privilege of getting to know the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of friends and customers as they attended LSU. We count our employees over the years as an integral part of our community,” he said. “We are grateful to have played such a key role in so many lives.”