The first week of classes every semester used to bring hundreds of students to the Wingate University bookstore.
“We’d have four registers running, with lines out the door,” says Cindy Jordan, clerk of Wingate Outfitters. “And each of those registers making 60, 70, 80 thousand dollars that day was nothing. People in line forever. We call that ‘rush week.’ Well, there is no rush week anymore.”
The bookstore business has changed dramatically since Jordan first came to work on the Wingate University campus in 1979. Jordan and her coworkers have adapted to the physical store’s move from the Dickson-Palmer Center to its current, more-remote location across Main Street from the Wingate Post Office. They’ve also grudgingly accepted the change in buying behavior brought about by the advent of the digital age.
None of that will be Jordan’s concern come June. “Miss Cindy” is retiring after 37 years of ordering books, fitting students for caps and gowns, and dealing with the “rush week” crush.
Jordan has seen Wingate grow from a school that had only recently become a four-year institution into a University with a third of the student body in graduate and professional programs. The student population is about double what it was 20 years ago.
“There was a time when everybody knew everybody,” she says. “Once you were hired, they would bring the new hires around to introduce them to everybody.”
“Those were the good days,” she adds. “I’m sad to say some people I don’t even know now.”
For years, Jordan always knew what was going on around campus. The Dickson-Palmer Center used to be a campus hub, where students would pick up their mail, grab a bite to eat or just hang out. The bookstore was a big part of that, with students and faculty dropping by often.
“People would pass by, look in the glass, see somebody they knew and come on in,” Jordan says.
As a result, Jordan knew the scuttlebutt on campus. That’s one drawback of being in Wingate Outfitters, the bookstore’s new location, where it moved in 2014.
“I have to literally call around to see what’s going on,” she says. “They’d come to me and say, ‘Did you know such-and-such,’ and I’d say, ‘No!’ – I’d say I didn’t. They come now and I actually do not know.”
The availability of books on websites such as Amazon, Valore Books and Chegg and the increasing popularity of book rentals have meant a lot fewer students frequenting the campus bookstore. Less space is devoted to books than in the past, and there are always a large number of returns to process.
Jordan understands that books are expensive. In years past, she’d get students who’d come in and “borrow” a book, at which Jordan might turn a blind eye.
“I’ve seen them come in and sit up against a wall and read a book because they just can’t afford it right then,” she says. “They’ve got a test coming up. I’m looking over like, ‘I see you over there. I’m sitting here. We don’t rent books. I’m looking at you.’ ‘Please, Miss Cindy!’ So I would just conveniently go somewhere and let them go through the book right quick.”
She also got to where she could “read” Wingate’s professors to know when she needed to have certain books in stock.
“After a while you learn the faculty,” Jordan says. “I used to know it a little bit better. If this book is slow in selling, we know that this guy, he’s going to lecture for a few weeks and then he’s going to start in on the book and you’ve got pop quizzes coming up and the kids will start buying them.”
She also knew very well the rush that happened on Saturdays in the fall. Since 1986, when Wingate started its football program, the bookstore has been open on Saturday mornings of home games, with a mini-store open at the stadium during the game.
With 140 team members and a whole lot of proud parents, it was a wise move. And Jordan was there every week.
“Your football parents are the most loyal people I’ve ever seen,” she says. “I don’t care where they came from – Timbuktu – Saturday game day they’re going to be here. If they have to fly, ride on a boat, whatever, they will be here, and they’re still that way. And they do spend a lot of money.”
Both of Jordan’s children – Connie McGriff Francois and Cull Jordan III – graduated from Wingate. They were both basically brought up on campus.
“There was no need to have a babysitter, because I had 15 hundred of them,” Jordan says.
Jordan says she’s going to enjoy retirement but will miss being on campus.
“This has been a wonderful journey for me,” she says. “I don’t think I could have found a job anywhere else that would have been like this. The students are wonderful. It’s exciting.
“There was a time when I said I ought to pay Wingate to let me come down and work for them.”