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In 1990 when RJ Julia Booksellers opened, I wrote down our purpose and values to guide us as a small business and an independent bookstore. They have remained our guiding principles to this day. It seemed appropriate to share them with you in light of the conversation around our hiring process for the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore.
Our purpose is to be a place for our customers, our staff, and our community to share their enthusiasm and excitement for books in a way that enhances the experience of us all.
This is what we are excited to bring to the new Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore opening next month. Wesleyan’s diverse, energetic and inquisitive community of students, faculty and staff open the door to many new possibilities for interesting programming. Our goal for this partnership is to create a great place for Wesleyan, the city of Middletown, and our employees.
I have been an employer for almost 30 years. It has been my honor and pleasure to create a work environment that is respectful, dynamic, smart and inclusive. We pride ourselves on being thoughtful to each other and enthusiastic in introducing writers to readers and readers to books that will inform, engage, provoke and entertain.
I was naturally surprised and upset to read in the Argus and elsewhere that our actions were being viewed as disrespectful or insensitive. We’ve been meeting with student groups, and will continue to do so, to hear their concerns and attempt to clear up misunderstandings that have spread about RJ Julia’s hiring practices. In that vein, I’d like to set the record straight for the readers of the Argus.
After Wesleyan and RJ Julia agreed to enter into this partnership, Follett (the corporate parent of Broad Street Books) was notified prior to the public announcement in November. It is regrettable that some Broad Street Books employees were caught off guard, but it was Follett’s responsibility to notify its staff of the change. For Wesleyan or RJ Julia to have done so would have been inappropriate.
As promised, RJ Julia reached out to all current Broad Street Books employees to offer interviews for positions at the new bookstore. Our commitment had always been to interview everyone; it is incorrect that Broad Street Books employees were all promised jobs. RJ Julia is a small independent bookstore without a corporate parent company like Follett. Thus, the positions for which we’re hiring—and the skill sets required—are different.
About 20 Broad Street Books employees interviewed with us, along with dozens of other community members. In total, we received hundreds of applications from the Middletown community. We were very impressed by several of the Broad Street employees, and thus far, three have signed on to work with us. Discussions are ongoing with others. For a few of these employees, we were unable to meet their personal requirements for hours or position. But, to be clear, no current Broad Street employee was offered a salary lower than what they are currently earning.
During each interview, we shared the details of the hiring timeline. Since the newly hired store manager wasn’t coming on board until mid-March, and needed time to get acclimated, we told all applicants that they would hear back about positions in late March or early April.
In order to assure that RJ Julia’s could deliver a quality textbook purchasing experience, we’re thrilled to be bringing on experienced managers in this area. These individuals have many years of strong experience at local colleges and universities, including at Broad Street Books. I have the utmost confidence that Wesleyan students will be pleased with their textbook purchasing experience.
There has been much discussion of “the RJ Julia Experience,” with some speculating that the term implied racial discrimination. I want to assure you in the strongest possible terms that this is not what we mean at all. As everyone knows, customers can quickly and cheaply buy a book now with one click on their computer or mobile device. They choose to come to RJ Julia because of our wonderful staff. Our employees are warm, knowledgeable, and share a love of reading and a desire to help customers find the next book they won’t be able to put down. The RJ Julia experience also refers to the kind of workplace we strive to create for our employees. We are committed to creating a place where words matter, everyone is welcome and respected, and civil discourse is encouraged and nourished.
I do hope that by providing these details, we have cleared up many of the misconceptions of the hiring process. I am more than happy to meet with any group of students, faculty, staff or Broad Street books employees who wish to have constructive, respectful dialogue about these issues. Let me reiterate our appreciation for the opportunity to serve the Wesleyan and greater Middletown communities as your college and community bookstore. And I look forward to introducing you all to the RJ Julia Experience—a term I use with great pride—beginning in mid-May.