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Penn School of Nursing sponsors Global Health Week with lecture by Dr. Mor focusing on health personnel in rural India Credit: Frances Hu , Justin Cohen

Manager Joe Noce gestured to the rows of empty beige shelves — “these used to all be filled with books.”

Tucked between various restaurants, Dolbey’s Bookstore is easy to miss at first, and after being on the Spruce Street block for over 30 years, it will close for good on Mar. 23. They will continue to process purchase orders from their website.

The medical bookstore has maintained a long-time partnership with the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, the Veterinary School and the Dental School, offering booklists, equipment and other services.

Noce finds it hard to believe “the second best medical school in the country won’t have a medical bookstore.”

Although it has moved around Pennsylvania, Dolbey’s, part of national chain Matthews Book Company, has been in business since 1909. Matthews, based in St. Louis, owns 32 other stores.

The exact date of Dolbey’s move to Spruce Street is unclear, but Noce said he’s heard from practitioners who graduated from Penn in the 1970s who have shopped at the store.

In his 10 years of managing the store, he has seen the rise of online retailers such as Amazon and peer-to-peer selling coincide with a decrease in sales at Dolbey’s.

“It could be second-year student selling to first-year students,” he said. “That’s the big killer.”

The healthcare textbook industry may be taking the hit especially hard, Noce added. “Accounting 101 is used across the country at thousands of schools. When it comes to internal medicine textbooks, there are only a handful of schools that use that stuff.”

Jim Klund, Chief Operating Officer at Matthews, said the declining sales may also be due to competition with the Penn Bookstore, run by Barnes & Noble. “I would imagine [the University] encourages departments to buy Barnes & Noble.”

In recent years, the store has began selling other products — medical scrubs, gift items, school supplies — to supplement book sales, according to Klund.

It hasn’t proved enough. “If your book sales go down, you can sell shirts and mugs all you want, but that’s not enough,” Noce said.

The store was located at 3724 Spruce St. — where Bonded Cleaners is now — but downsized to its current real estate at 3734 Spruce in 2005, Noce said.

Klund said they had asked the University’s rental agency for decreased rent to no avail.

“We don’t want to close it. We couldn’t get anyone to budge on rent or help us get more sales,” Klund said. “Nobody would do anything to help us stay there.”

Director of Facilities and Real Estate Ed Datz said, “Dolbey’s has had a great relationship with Penn … We have worked together on several locations in the past ten years.”

Penn has began receiving proposals for a new retail for the space and will begin evaluating them in the next two to four weeks, Datz said. They hope to have a new business open in the spot by September.

Angela Iorianni-Cimbak, director of Penn Nursing’s Simulation Center and the director of the Mathias J. Brunner Instructional Technology Center, is very disappointed about the imminent closing.

“They’ve been serving students above and beyond expectations,” she said, adding that Dolbey’s often holds special sales, makes donations and supports students.

“I can speak for the School of Nursing that we need them in spirit,” she said.

Iorianni-Cimbak added the store has been a great help with immediate repairs to equipment.

“Not only are they good partners, they are good people,” she said. “They have the spirit of Penn in their community, in their store and area.”

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