Conkey’s loses contract with Fox Valley Tech

Caitlin Williamson

Conkey’s Bookstore has been an icon of the city of Appleton since 1896, but the store suffered a significant financial blow when it lost its textbook contract with Fox Valley Technical College last week. In addition, Conkey’s has been losing business as a result of the College Avenue bridge reconstruction and the economic recession.
The Fox Valley Technical College’s board of trustees voted to end FVTC’s contract with Conkey’s and switch to a contract with Barnes and Noble Booksellers.
“[The loss of the contract] will definitely impact us; we’ll just have to do business a little differently, like cut back on hours and on other things,” said John Zimmerman, owner of Conkey’s Bookstore.
Conkey’s is Wisconsin’s oldest independent bookstore. It is a full-service bookstore with a gift shop, and in addition, it provides textbook sales for Lawrence. Zimmerman has been working for Conkey’s for over 50 years – nearly half of the bookstore’s history. He has a strong connection to Lawrence and the Appleton community. He grew up in Appleton and was good friends with the family of Nathan Marsh Pusey, president of Lawrence 1944-1953.
“Things have changed just a little over the years, but Lawrence has always been an interesting school and Appleton a neat town to be a part of. I’ve enjoyed it here,” Zimmerman said. “Lawrence is a very important part of Conkey’s; without it, Conkey’s would have a very hard time being here.”
Conkey’s has not been the only local business to suffer lately – a few other stores have gone out of business recently, including Sparkadoodles, a gift store on College Avenue. Zimmerman has had to make changes to the way Conkey’s is managed in order to save money – Conkey’s will be ordering fewer copies of books initially, and then reordering if necessary, rather than buying more books at once and running the risk of not selling them.
“The interesting thing is ever since [the loss of the contract] has happened, I’ve had so many people call me, hoping that we wouldn’t be dropping off,” Zimmerman said. “Over 800 people in less than a week have commented [via e-mail and blog]; that’s a lot of people.”
It is getting harder for independent businesses to compete with large corporations and chains. In the bookstore world, stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble are dominating the scene. However, Zimmerman still has hope that things will get better for Conkey’s.
“I’m very positive about the future. Our goal is to continue in business and give the best service we can,” Zimmerman said. “That’s always been the case – we are built on service. This is what I have made my life at, is customer service, and that’s what makes the difference between us and Barnes and Noble, and other big chain stores. There’s something about independent stores; the only way they can compete is through service and sensitivity to the customer. I’m 68 years old, and I don’t want to give up [now].