Simplicity is what drew Lyle Fitzgerald to purchase Saskatoon business Books Unlimited in 1988. Located across from campus on College Drive, his policy for trading used textbooks makes it easy for both students and his store to make a profit.
Fitzgerald says that he has always loved books. He began his new career when the bookstore went up for sale across from the University of Saskatchewan, where he graduated from in 1976. Although he didn’t have any experience, he quickly learned from the previous owners how to run the established business.
“All I ever wanted was to just run a nice little quiet business and make a living, and it’s done that,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s almost like a retirement job right now — half the time I’m sitting here having coffee and yapping with customers.”
Fitzgerald’s trading policy allows students to put their used textbooks on his shelves at the price they want — capped at 75 per cent of the new cost — for up to 13 months. Students still own their books and can take them back at any time, but if they sell, he takes a 25 per cent cut.
“So I’m in the same boat with my student clients. If they make money the store makes money, and if they didn’t I didn’t,” Fitzgerald said. “And it gives me incentive to try and help them as much as possible because I’m helping both of us at the same time.”
Fitzgerald says talking with the customers has been his favourite part of owning the store, and he could not have gotten “better clientele” than “friendly and honest” university students.
Over the three decades that Fitzgerald has owned Books Unlimited, he has seen the demographics of his customer base shifting with the university’s internationalization. When he first started, it was mostly “prairie kids” but now he enjoys getting to learn more from his increasingly diverse customer base.
“I was a history major and I’ve always loved learning about the countries of the world and meeting people from all over,” Fitzgerald said.
Another change the bookstore owner has seen is textbook publishers increasingly using access codes that force students to buy new. Although he has always thought textbooks were “outrageously priced,” Fitzgerald relies on feedback from his customers to find out which earlier editions can still be used.
“Students tell me when professors say, ‘We can use that earlier edition,’ or ‘No, we can’t.’ And then I’ll pass that information on to other students that come in,” Fitzgerald said.
Besides seeing how textbooks have changed, many students are increasingly selling their textbooks online through Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji.
Fitzgerald has adapted to this change by encouraging students to cover more ground by putting their books on his shelves while advertising online.
“When the student brings the book here, the product goes up for 13 months to get them through the year’s cycle,” Fitzgerald said. “Since different books sell at different times of the year, they can take their book back anytime.”
Fitzgerald still runs his store by mostly by the same pen and paper method he has always used. He admits that if he was starting a business now, he would have to learn new technologies but he enjoys being “very laid back” instead.
He says that he could have retired years ago but would rather spend his time running the store for a few more years.
“My memories will always be with this place here, and after 30 some years, it feels like home,” Fitzgerald said.
Noah Callaghan/ Staff Writer
Photo: Victoria Becker/ Photo Editor