Owners of pre-eminent K-State bookstore buy The Jayhawk Bookstore
If that new crimson and blue Jayhawk shirt bleeds just a little bit of purple on you, you’ll know why.
The ownership group of Varney’s — the self-proclaimed world’s largest retailer of Kansas State merchandise — has purchased the Jayhawk Bookstore at 1420 Crescent Road.
But the store’s new owners said diehard KU fans don’t have to worry about Kansas State merchandise or sentiments infiltrating the longtime Jayhawk Bookstore at the top of the hill.
“Think of it like a marriage but with separate bank accounts,” Steve Levin, general manager of Varney’s and the corporate entity University Book Store Inc., said with a laugh. “That first day I got to the Lawrence store, I put on a beautiful blue shirt with a Jayhawk on it. But when I wore it back to the store in Manhattan, you would have thought I was a leper.”
The Varney’s brand-name certainly won’t be making an appearance in Lawrence, Levin said. The new owners are keeping the Jayhawk Bookstore brand, and plan to turn around some struggles at the store — which previously was owned by Nebraska Book Co., a Lincoln-based company that has been shedding a few properties since emerging from bankruptcy.
“We’re a Kansas company,” Levin said from the company’s Manhattan headquarters. “We understand what Kansas and Lawrence people expect. We know we can bring a good product and a fair price.”
Levin said the company has been looking to expand, and is particularly optimistic about the chance to grow the company’s apparel sales with KU merchandise.
“The KU brand is more of a national brand with the basketball program,” said Levin, who said college bookstores will need to rely more on apparel sales in the future as textbooks continue to migrate to digital formats.
While the Jayhawk Bookstore won’t be increasing its K-State offerings, Levin said the company will explore opportunities to use both The Jayhawk Bookstore and the Varney’s brands in markets like Wichita and Kansas City. He said a dual-branded store where both KU and K-State fans could feel good about purchasing their team’s apparel is a possibility in those markets.
As for the Lawrence store, Levin said the biggest change likely will be just a more active gameday atmosphere at the store, especially for the upcoming KU football season. Levin said he’s committed to having the large sports talk radio station 810 WHB come in for at least four live pre-game shows during the season.
Varney’s, which has been in the bookstore business since 1890, has been credited with helping boost the gameday atmosphere in Manhattan and Aggieville.
“We really love gamedays,” Levin said.
But Levin said he knows some may question how a company with such deep K-State roots will be able to be a strong promoter for the Jayhawks. He said it won’t be difficult. The company actually owned a business in downtown Lawrence, The Children’s Bookshop, for about a decade in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
“We love Lawrence,” Levin said. “My sister went to school there. We had a business there. We think it is an all-around great community.”
He thinks KU fans will do fine with the new ownership as well. After all, he said, it is not like a Missouri Tiger bookstore is buying the operation.
“I feel like KU and K-State are kind of like the cousins who don’t always get along,” Levin said. “Now KU and Missouri, I understand that is the Hatfields and the McCoys.”
Plus, it may be worth noting that one of the other large KU apparel retailers in Lawrence, GTM Sportswear’s Gameday Super Store on 23rd Street, has its roots in Manhattan-based GTM Sportswear. Perhaps more noteworthy is one of Levin’s friends: KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger. He already is proving KU and K-State paths can cross. Zenger grew up in Lawrence but graduated from K-State and served as an associate athletics director for the Wildcats. Levin said Zenger loves books and would frequently come into Varney’s during his lunch break.
“Hopefully most people really will understand what we’re trying to do,” Levin said. “We will always want to do what is best for the students at the University of Kansas. We want to be a very positive influence on how the world sees KU.”