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04-08-19-pennbookcenter-tamarawurman-07

The Penn Book Center, located on 34th Street between Walnut and Sansom streets, has been open since 1962.

Credit: Tamara Wurman

After nearly 60 years of business, the Penn Book Center will shut its doors in May due to overwhelming competition from online giants such as Amazon.

Store owners Ashley Montague and Michael Row announced the bookstore's closure on April 8. Although they have taken steps to sustain the beloved store, which opened in 1962, the owners said these measures have not generated enough profit.

Row said they plan to start listing products on sale at the end of April and throughout May. He added that customers will be able to make purchases through Memorial Day on May 27, and then they will begin shutting down the bookstore in the following weeks.

In recent years, the bookstore owners decided to stop selling course textbooks in an attempt to appeal to the larger University City community. The owners have also increased in-store events, including public readings with authors.

Two years ago, students and professors were frustrated with the removal of course books from the Penn Book Center's shelves because of issues with Penn Bookstore’s ordering system. Row cited the Amazon@Penn store's 2015 opening as a reason for plummeting book sales and as a major factor in the decision to stop selling textbooks.

"We figured we would die if we stayed with course books," Row said. "So we said 'okay let's try the shift to the trade [books], community center type of approach.'"

The store is known for being host to public events with prominent authors such as Rebecca Traister, Imani Perry, Feminista Jones, and Helen Zia. Montague and Row plan to continue hosting events at the store until the end of May.

Credit: Ethan Wu

The bookstore will not be in business by the time students return to campus in the fall.

Jamie-Lee Josselyn, a creative writing instructor and Associate Director for Recruitment for Penn's Creative Writing Program, had just finished teaching her class on Monday when she received an email about the Penn Book Center closing. She said she was "heartbroken" when she found out about the closure.

Josselyn, who used to offer the textbooks for her courses at the store, said she saw the Penn Book Center as a beloved space on campus because of its special events and book selection.

"One of my favorite things is going in there, looking for a book, but getting sidetracked by different books," Josselyn said. "I think that experience – getting to do that and maybe losing track of time a little bit – especially these days when we're all so busy and so scheduled, is something I'll really miss about going there." 

Montague and Row purchased the store in 2005 from its original founders Peter, Achilles, and Olga Nickles. 

"It's going to be a loss," Row said. "We feel really bad about it. This has been our life for a really long time."

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