Three months after a change in ownership, the Penn Book Center was renamed "People’s Books & Culture" to distinguish the center from the University-owned Penn Bookstore. The center will also undergo several renovations in an effort to attract more customers.
The Penn Book Center announced in May its plan to close after 60 years of business, citing financial hardship. After several protests and a petition with more than 5,000 signatures that called on Penn to help the bookstore stay open, the University extended the bookstore’s lease until the end of August. The bookstore was sold that month to new owners Matthew Duques, an English professor at the University of North Alabama, and his wife, writer Diana Bellonby.
Duques said in his few months running the bookstore, workers often had to redirect people who came into the store to buy Penn T-shirts and merchandise, mistaking the Penn Book Center for the Penn Bookstore.
“We don't mind redirecting people, but we prefer to have a name that indicates autonomy of the store and allows us to keep doing great events and sell the kind of books we keep selling,” Duques said. “It was a long process of figuring out but at the end of the day we really had to do it.”
The new renovations will include replacing the carpet with better flooring, placing a table in the upstairs area for book clubs and writing classes, and placing chairs throughout the store so the store becomes a more comfortable, aesthetically pleasing space to browse and spend time. The center will undergo the changes in January.
“If we see a store like this surviving, it survives by seeking its way forward, fighting against Amazon and big stores by just improving itself as we can, not magical transformation,” Duques said. “It won’t magically transform overnight. It’ll gradually and hopefully transform with our help to be a better store."
Duques said sales have not been consistent in the past few months, but he hopes with the name change and upcoming renovations, sales will increase.
“[Sales] have been up and down in October and November. We’d love for it to be doing a little bit better, but we think it will once we make these changes,” Duques said.
The Penn Book Center was previously owned by Ashley Montague, who graduated from Penn in 1999 with a Ph.D. in English, and Michael Row, who received a Wharton Ph.D. in 2001.
Hao Tam, a 2019 English Ph.D. graduate, said he likes the new name because People’s Books & Culture reflects the community's fight to keep the bookstore open. Tam said it is "imperative" for the bookstore to find a new direction so that the business can keep going.
Duques said he hopes the PBC will become less dependent on one university campus and more of a center for Penn and Drexel students and faculty.
“From what I see now, they’re targeting not only a Penn clientele but also Philadelphia clientele to open it to a much larger market, and I think it's smart on their part," Tam said.
Staff Reporter Elizabeth Meisenzahl contributed reporting.