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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC's Bull’s Head Bookshop only trade bookstore in system

Allison Tierney, a Master of Fine Arts graduate student, uses recycled material in her work.
Allison Tierney, a Master of Fine Arts graduate student, uses recycled material in her work.

Opened in 1925 , the UNC-CH store is a trade bookstore — one that offers books for the general public as opposed to standard collegiate bookstores, which offer primarily academic resources.

Merchandise and textbooks stores are near-universal on college campuses and many have at least a small section for best-selling trade titles.

But UNC-CH is the only UNC-system school with a store dedicated just to trade books.

Erica Eisdorfer , former Bull’s Head manager of 25 years, said when she began working there she wanted to fill the shelves with a wide range of titles.

“When I left, the most important thing was to turn a profit,” she said. “And that’s sad.”

Eisdorfer said that when big-name competitors like Barnes & Noble and entered the book market, small bookstores everywhere felt the impact. She said the lack of university press academic texts in those bigger markets is disappointing.

“Scholarship is a beautiful thing. It separates people from beasts, and the ability to go in and read about gypsies in Britain in 1800 published by some university press, that’s a fantastic thing to do if you’re a scholar,” she said.

Eisdorfer said the store has had to expand its merchandise section to compete.

“When you think of bookstores, you don’t think of just books anymore. You think of trinkets and toys,” she said.

Since the 1990s, the Bull’s Head has cut back on inventory, floor space and staff. Despite the downsizing, current manager Stacie Smith said the store still feels the same way about books and the people who buy them.

“The love is still big even if the store isn’t huge anymore,” she said in an email.

Student Stores Director John Gorsuch said even though the Bull’s Head is smaller, it still does enough business to maintain itself.

“We’re trying to come up with creative ways to keep it vital and vibrant so it doesn’t go the way of other college trade book departments at other universities,” he said.

These ideas include annual readings of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in English and Latin during the holiday season and the proximity of The Daily Grind to the shop .

During the academic year, Bull’s Head sponsors two to three events per week to promote itself as a campus center. It sells about 60,000 books a year .

But for many, the Bull’s Head is not just a business.

“Having the Bull’s Head means that what we have at UNC is more than just a place to buy tee shirts,” Eisdorfer said.

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