You may not have met him, you may not even have any idea who he is, but you’ve seen his face. Online and throughout The Commons, you’ve seen a cartoon man with a thick mustache, sometimes wearing a cape. He’s Bookstore Bob, advertising the school bookstore. And it turns out that he’s a real person.
Bookstore Bob, also known as Bob Somers, has been working in the UMBC bookstore since 1990. He denies it, but I insist: he’s a seriously important presence, and his work has made all the difference at the bookstore. After talking with the man behind the mascot, I’ve realized one thing: I want to be like him when I grow up.
Before I explain why, I want to peel back the side of Bookstore Bob that you’re familiar with. As the mascot representing the bookstore around campus, he (or, at least, his caricature) is a campus celebrity. But I don’t want to give the impression he is anything but a dedicated guy doing the most to get his job done.
Somers’ campus celebrité is the exact opposite of an ego-stroking move. Being recognized around campus, said Somers, is “a little unnerving, but ultimately if it gets us to where we want to be, where they see my ugly mug on an ad someplace and immediately they think the bookstore, then it works.”
And it seems to have been a success, said Somers. By capitalizing on an existing nickname (“I had been called Bookstore Bob way before I ever came here”), Somers helped the bookstore build a brand that could be recognized around campus. He did so even though it feels “horribly uncomfortable” to be the bookstore’s public face, but it’s certainly worked.
When he’s not a mustachioed man in a cape (he has a beard in real life, and he was wearing jeans and a button-up), Somers is doing his damnedest to get you the textbooks, t-shirts and art supplies you need for the best price possible. “We are here to serve the student population,” said Somers.
Somers knows that students often find better deals elsewhere, and he knows that students aren’t always thrilled with his prices. He points out, though, that he has bills to pay too. “Retail is a tough business,” said Somers. “For every dollar of a new textbook sale, the bookstore makes approximately 2 and a half cents.”
However, new efforts including the Course Materials Initiative are designed to give students the best prices possible. “In reality, you guys are my boss,” said Somers. “If you guys don’t go to school here, I probably am not going to get a paycheck.” To that end, Somers is constantly looking out for ways to give us what we want from the bookstore – from cheaper textbooks, to more attractive gear.
It’s easy to be angry about the bookstore’s prices. But sitting down with Bookstore Bob helped. It’s clear that the bookstore staff are doing everything they can to serve us, and even if I buy my books from Amazon, I appreciate their effort.
Which brings me back to what I said earlier — why I want to be like Bookstore Bob when I grow up. It boils down to this: he really, really enjoys what he does. “When I got here in 1990 I was going to be here for three or four years, but I liked some of the people so much that I’ve been here for 25,” said Somers.
Somers has found his niche serving the kids who, as he said, will be taking care of him when he’s older. He is so comfortable with himself, and watching him on phone calls, it’s clear he’s in his element here. I want to be that kind of person: the kind of person who leaves a student reporter with 50 minutes of interview to sift through. Keep on doing what you love, Bookstore Bob. We appreciate it.