"Our Inadequate Bookstore"

June 1, 2011

New edition: The Gothic moved to its current Bryan Center location in the early 1980s.

New edition: The Gothic moved to its current Bryan Center location in the early 1980s.
University Archives

Today’s students have access to books in a variety of formats and delivery options ranging from e-readers to online ordering from Amazon. But in the 1950s, the local bookstore ruled the scene, and the Intimate Bookshop in Chapel Hill dominated the area’s market.

For years, Duke students and faculty members had lobbied for their own bookstore, finally resulting in an October 7, 1955, Chronicle editorial titled “Our Inadequate Bookstore,” which opened with the rather blunt statement that it was “a disgrace to the University to call the room in the basement of the Old Union a bookstore.” (The campus bookstore, which the editorial criticized, sold only textbooks at the time.)

A related story, “Interviews Reveal Bookstore Ideas,” ran the following month with student leaders and faculty members discussing the need for a campus bookstore that would offer new and used best sellers, and fiction and nonfiction titles. History professor Ernest Nelson felt that the lack of a bookstore was “keeping the humanities from taking their rightful place in the University.”

In the fall of 1956, Herbert Herring, vice president for student life, announced plans for a bookstore. The TV room in the Flowers building was identified as a suitable location, and in November, plans for the bookstore were finalized as former British intelligence-officer-turned-bookseller Jeremy North was contracted to run the store.

North promised a bookstore that would carry new and used fiction, nonfiction, best sellers, and antiquarian books and that would compete with Chapel Hill’s Intimate Bookshop. The Gothic Bookshop proved to be such a success that it expanded in 1964. North ran the store until his retirement in 1971, and after the Bryan Center opened in 1982, the Gothic moved to its current location there.