Welcome to the future
An editorial on the University Exchange — the new TMU bookstore
Editor’s note: If you want a breakdown of what the University Exchange is and what it offers, read the first half of the article. If you want editorial opinion on the UE, why it’s significant, and what it means for the future of TMU, read the second half of the article.
A light drizzle in Placerita Canyon on the morning of February 3rd, 2017, did not put a damper on the buzz at The Master’s University surrounding the completion of the latest on-campus project at the institution. Attended by the University Marketing Department and members of the Board of Directors (including school president Dr. John MacArthur and prominent board member Dr. Steven J. Lawson), the new University Exchange was unveiled at 12 noon on an otherwise normal, albeit somewhat gloomy Friday.
This Exchange (a hipster synonym for store) has been the talk of the campus since October of 2016, when the bookstore shut down for renovations. The hype train (pardon the colloquialism — I am a college student after all) gained steam when Dr. MacArthur addressed the future of the bookstore in chapel in early November, when the UE Instagram page was launched in mid-January, and when a restored printing press was seen being brought into the Student Center. Robert Jensen, the social media director for TMU Marketing, posted a handful of sneak peeks on the TMU Instagram page, the UE Instagram page, and his own personal Instagram page (follow him at @waterandfilm — he’s an amazing photographer) that further built the hype.
Now it’s here.
The UE is a work of art, first and foremost. The new University navy, gold, and slate color palette is featured prominently throughout. The floor is made from a worn-wood-look paneling, which is similar to the wood used on the apparel display tables. The sign work is top-notch. That printing press I mentioned earlier? It’s being used a display shelf, and it’s the first thing you see when you walk in. Wandering to the northeast corner you’ll find a reading nook featuring the most comfortable old leather chairs. The shelves are all “University Blue,” a clean navy that tends toward the bluer side of the spectrum. On two walls that don’t house shelves, a slate colored brick wall helps some of the fantastic signage pop nicely. Throughout there are featured photos from decades of history at LABC/TMC/TMU. There is a lot of open, unused space which further accentuates those pieces that are using space.
The overall feel, aesthetically, makes me feel as if I’ve been transported back to the first few years Dr. John Dunkin was president of LABC. If I didn’t know better I’d think I was in a downtown shop in some small city in 1956. The gold trim on the wooden doors, the simple screen printed “University Exchange” on the glass, the prominent use of wood through the desing of the space, and the reading nook with the worn leather chairs all contribute to the retro vibe. Combine that with the old photos and I’ve been transported back to the days when my grandfather was in college.
So what exactly does the UE offer?
The store is broken down into several different sections. You have the Christian living section, which offers books from many different authors from different eras, from Kevin DeYoung to John Owen. This is easily the largest section of the store, and the one that most people will gravitate to.
Then you have the Faculty Curated section, which includes titles in the realms of biography, business, history, and literature. These titles are hand-picked by TMU faculty in the business, history, and English departments. This is the one area of the store that branches outside the typical Christian bookstore offerings, with secular business strategy books and biographies of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs.
No Christian bookstore is complete without a selection of Bibles, and the UE does not disappoint here (in my opinion). Here’s the catch: only ESV Bibles from Crossway are available. ESV is my translation of choice, and the choice of Christian hipsters and millennials across the English-speaking world. But that will not appease the Bible majors who must have the direct word-for-word accuracy of the NASB, or Dr. Todd Bolen, who proudly reads and teaches from the 1978 NIV that he was raised with. That being said, the ESV selection is impressive, ranging from large-print and pocket-sized, to the economical ThinLine, and a selection of the Christian hipster’s layout of choice: the journaling Bible. I was especially excited to see the cloth-over-board Jonathan Edwards Interleaved Blank Bible available.
Moving on, we have a little Master’s Seminary corner, with a selection of TMS branded apparel and items, ranging from mugs, to ballcaps, to a 40oz stainless steel double-wall thermos bottle with a gold seminary logo emblazoned on the front. There’s even a custom TMS Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen with a display case (so tempting!).
Next you’ll find two tables of apparel, split into two categories: fashion and athletic. The athletic apparel is all custom Nike Dri-Fit T-Shirts, hoodies, and polos, including a gray heather tee with the controversial but well-loved SLS “Demon Mustang” screen printed on the front. The fashion section features 1/4 zip hoodies, baseball raglans, and T-Shirts, featuring a simple “The Master’s University” or the new (old-school) university seal seen on a few promo items and of course the amazing View Weekend shirts from the fall semester.
The centerpiece of the entire operation is “The President’s Collection” featuring books written, read, and recommended by our president, Dr. John MacArthur. Here are featured some of his best and most popular works spanning deacades of his writing career. In the dead center of all these books is displayed what MacArthur may well be remembered best for, when all is said and done: His Biblical Doctrine, written under his supervision by TMS and TMU faculty members. On a personal note, this has been on my wishlist for a while, and I am stoked that it’s finally here.
Last but not least, there is an “amenities corner” where you can buy a small bottle of soap, stick of deodorant or a binder and blank notebook paper, should you run out and have no way to get to Wal-Mart.
Scattered throughout is what I like to call “Mustang swag:” TMU branded items that you can show off with pride. These range from small Moleskine notebooks, to Hydroflasks, to stickers for your fridge, windshield, or water bottle.
For everyone worried about the lack of textbooks, I have word from an inside source that textbooks will be available for purchase and rent from the UE website, with delivery to your dorm room. That is service at it’s finest.
So there you have it. That’s the UE in a nutshell. What’s not to like?
Only three things.
First of all, prices are high. This is somewhat expected, given the apparel and branded products can’t be purchased anywhere else except here. They have the market cornered, so to speak. But, the upshot is that all books are at least 10% off retail, which makes book sales acceptably competitive.
Second, the raw volume of items for sale is far lower in the UE than it was in the old bookstore. In addition to textbooks there were hundreds of volumes of biographies, Bible commentaries, literature, and other books. There was a really helpful and convenient school supplies section where you grab notecards, paper, binders, highlighters, pens, and other “classroom essentials” at reasonable prices and in a location far more convenient than the closest Wal-Mart or Staples. The old bookstore had a broader selection of “swag.” Gone are the ever popular license plate frames, TMU branded journals, mugs, and window stickers.
Finally, I feel like the store is geared primarily toward prospective students and parents as a kind of “show-off” area to really sell TMU as a university with great things on the horizon. Which is true. But that doesn’t do much for current students that are already committed to the school.
In the end, these are minor quibbles. The UE is the beginning of something great at TMU.
Where is all of this coming from?
In order to gain a better understanding of why the UE is so important, let me fill you in on a little bit of background info. The UE is the brainchild of Marketing Director Kory Welch and his wife Melinda. It is from their distinct taste in design that we at TMU have received all of our University branding, from the logos on SLS shirts to the shield emblem on the chapel pulpit to the entire design and layout of the UE. But they are not the only ones behind it. Under Mr. Welch’s marketing umbrella he has a hardworking team of individuals that have contributed greatly to everything we’re beginning to see in our first months and years as a University. These individuals are cut from the same bolt of cloth as the team that conceptualized and realized the amazing Steeplehouse Coffeeshop on the campus of Grace Community Church. There is an unsurprisingly large amount of design similarity between Steeplehouse and the UE. It’s not hard to tell that they were both brought to life by people who are part of the same Grace/Master’s subculture. What is that sub-culture? I don’t know that they have an official title, I call them the Grace hipsters. They love God’s Word, they love doctrine (especially in the Reformed strain), they love the church, they love coffee, they love journaling, they love books and they love bringing the culture of their grandparents into the 21st century. (I should know about them, I am one, more or less. I just don’t look like one or talk like one.) They are essentially a less extreme version of the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement. Which means they’re still committed to the traditional model of church administration, they don’t drink alcohol, they’re not as outspoken about their Calvinism, and their haircuts are neater. They are Christian millennials. They’re essentially combining what’s good and popular in millennial culture with what’s Biblical. And it’s working. People are buying into it. People are starting to believe in the legitimacy of this new facet of the church. They’re showing the world that Christians can be artsy and hipster and trendy, without compromising our convictions. They’re the future leaders of the church. They’re creative, they work hard, and they will their ideas into reality, with a cup of coffee in one hand and a Moleskine journal in the other.
With the background established, what does this mean for TMU?
TMU has a strong reputation of being a black hole (for lack of more positive terminology). Once you get involved, you will likely stay connected to the school for the rest of your life. Just use the UE as an example. Everyone involved with bringing it to life is an alumni of the school, down to the contractors for construction. This means that these current students or recent graduates will soon start taking full-time staff positions at the school. Today’s students are tomorrow’s professors, deans of student life, resident directors, and board members. At some point they will bring this Christian millennial culture to the entire Grace/Master’s ecosystem. The current generation is aging. Dr. MacArthur is 77. None of the board members are particularly young. That means it will soon be time for the young people they have been training to step into their positions. The same young people who have put so much effort into these projects like Steeplehouse and the UE will soon be in positions of impactful leadership at the school.
This is exciting. These creative minds will be put to work in amazing ways.
Let’s face it. There are areas of our campus that could use a facelift. North Campus, Waldock, Sweazy, and Dixon Halls, the communications building. Imagine a TMU where the entire design scheme came from the creative brilliance of Kory Welch and Co. I can get behind that. The UE is only the start of what could be a potential design revolution at TMU, replete with synthesized branding across platforms, whether that be signs on buildings, websites, promo materials.
Prospective students choose Master’s in spite of the external appearance of the campus, not because of it. That’s the hard reality. But that could change, and it could change soon.
The irony of the UE is that aesthetically it is as retro as it gets, but when you peel away all the looks and design choices, it’s really the bookstore of the future.