CHAMPAIGN — After nearly 75 years in Campustown, Follett's will close the book on its store at Green and Wright streets in May.
Company spokesman Elio DiStaola said the store will close May 29, having served generations of University of Illinois students.
JSM Development is expected to acquire the Follett's building at 627 S. Wright St., C, and turn it into a multi-tenant building for three or four retailers.
DiStaola called the closing "a business decision," noting the value of the property continues to increase.
"Over time, it became clear that it was no longer economically feasible to operate at this location," he said.
The store — once a central source of new and used textbooks on campus — got out of the course-material business a year or so ago.
It now sells Illini apparel, Illini-related gifts, school supplies, small computer peripherals and a small selection of best sellers.
Store manager Alex Paul referred inquiries about the closing to Follett's corporate headquarters in River Grove.
Jill Guth, director of commercial leasing for JSM, said the Follett's building has been on JSM's radar for some time.
"We had actively contacted Follett's corporate on and off for many years," she said. "They approached us, and we were able to work out a deal to purchase the building."
Guth said the building has a total of 21,000 square feet on its lower level, first and second floors. It will need to be modified to accommodate separate retailers, she said.
"There are openings between the first and second floor, and we'll be filling those openings to create separations between retailers," she said.
Once the transaction closes, JSM will own everything on the north side of Green Street between Sixth and Wright streets, with the exception of a portion of Murphy's Pub, Guth said.
Norma Cavanaugh has worked at Follett's for nearly 25 years — to many, a long time, but only a third of the store's run.
When she came to work in 1988, the marketplace was different.
"TIS (Bookstore) wasn't here, and IUB (the Illini Union Bookstore) was in a cubbyhole along Wright Street," Cavanaugh said. "We were known for getting used texts for students so it would be cheaper for them."
When Follett's replaced its store on the northwest corner of Green and Wright with a new building in 1997, Cavanaugh marveled at how big it was going to be.
"Look at all the buildings next to us now," she said, referring to JSM's eight-story Tech Plaza at 616 E. Green St., C.
Cavanaugh, the customer service manager, said she has fond memories of Follett's.
"What I'll miss the most are the students we hired. They usually stayed all four years. I've seen lots go through, and I still keep in touch with many of them," she said.
Cavanaugh estimated that in 1988, Follett's had about 10 full-time employees and 35 to 40 students working in Champaign. Today there are about five full-time employees and nine to 10 student employees.
In many ways, Follett's is a Campustown landmark.
"Everyone is familiar with us being here on this corner," Cavanaugh said.
But that hasn't always been its location. Follett's moved to the current spot in 1962 when it acquired the Co-Op Book Store in the Cunningham Building.
Before that, Follett's was located on the south side of Green Street, at 627 E. Green St., the current site of Zorba's.
Anne Johnston, the dean of Campustown business owners, remembers Follett's operating at both locations.
"It's a shame to see them go," said Johnston, who has operated Campus Florist for more than 71 years.
Follett Corp. — which manages more than 900 college bookstores across the U.S. and Canada and provides wholesale services to 1,600 others — was founded in 1873. The Champaign store dates back to 1938, DiStaola said.