By Desireé Keegan
The building at 1081 Rt.25A Stony Brook looks different today. The windows are covered in thick, brown packing paper. A “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign hangs on the front door. As students pass the storefront, they turn their heads to stop and stare.
Stony Books, long the university’s off-campus textbook alternative, has closed its doors for good. Earlier this month, the shelves were pulled out, the school supplies donated. The floor is dusty and bare,
the walls stripped clean. The phone rings periodically — students still looking for cheap, used textbooks.
Robert Breun first opened Stony Books’ doors 32 years ago. With its cheaper new and used books and guaranteed buybacks, the store became a popular source for Stony Brook students looking to get textbooks.
“For 32 years, we served as a checks and balance system on prices,” Breun said. “I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this store.”
Breun’s first heart attack came in July. His second weeks later, toward the end of August. His life, he said, has become a constant doctor’s visit.
Breun is tremendously concerned about over-working himself or risking the possibility of another heart attack. “I have my nephews, grandchildren…I want to see them grow up. Life is too short.”
His health problems, combined with a drop in business — due to cheap websites and the Faculty Stu- dent Association’s insistence that professors use the university bookstore, Breun said — plus the end of the store’s lease created “a perfect storm.”
Last week, Breun’s two nephews, Paul Breun, text manager, and Nick Breun, retail manager, who have been at the shop since they went to school at Stony Brook, worked to pack up the last remaining items. The goal was to close up shop by the end of the next week.
“My brother and I are grateful for the experience we have been able to develop in the business world over the past decade. Our uncle has been a mentor in teaching us the proper qualities with determination, work ethic and doing what it takes to be a successful retailer,” Paul Breun said.
Breun graduated from Stony Brook in 1972, with a degree in history and Secondary Education. He taught at Brentwood High School before coming back to Stony Brook as a fill-in professor for six months. Unable to receive a permanent job, he went on to teach at various other schools including Queens College, Dowling College and Suffolk Community College. None of them seemed to do the trick.
For a year, he had worked for the Stony Brook bookstore. The experience made him realize the need for an off-campus bookstore. He wanted to make this dream a reality.
“Location was half the battle,” he said. Finding an empty store space on Rt.25A, he was able to rent the store by July. When he opened the store, he offered new textbooks from 5 percent to as low as 20 percent below the list price. His used textbooks were selling from 20 to 45 percent below the list price.
Although his prices were significantly lower than most other stores, such as the campus bookstore and Barnes & Noble, business did not start off as planned.
He wanted to carry at least 95 percent of the titles needed for courses on campus. Nevertheless, he was unable to do so, simply because professors were unaware of the start up of his business.
In the later years, business picked up and eventually Breun was able to offer most of the required text- books at his store, along with school supplies. It became a one-stop shop for everything a student needed to begin their first day of classes.
Professors would e-mail him or flood the building to inform him of the textbooks they were going to be assigning to students that semester. The store has since become a fixture for Stony Brook students.
Breun said that the costs of his books are lower because he tries to cut margins to stay in competition with the campus bookstore. “We try to obtain more used books due to the demand from students,” he said. “Our prices may be lower because we pay the freight cost for books, we don’t transfer the cost to our customers.”
Paul Breun said, “The stress of the business and all the different variables we have been competing against over the past couple of years… make it hard to compete with Amazon and other online outlets.”
These variables included new legislation on text- book ISBN’s, the fad of renting textbooks online and the increasing prices from publishers. “
After 32 years, I’m done. I’m shot. You have to support yourself,” he said. “After everything that has happened, it just seemed like the perfect time. I am closing the business permanently, because I would never want to put the weight of the business on anyone else, especially not my nephews. I want them to go off and do what it is they want to do.”
So as another semester commences, students will have to return to places like the University Bookstore, or the ever-popular Amazon.
Breun’s presence has acted as a blessing to many students, whom he has supported with cheaper text- books. He has assisted cash-strapped students, making them feel more relaxed about their financial situations.
“It was a pleasure,” he said, in the wake of tough times to be given the opportunity to “proudly serve the students of Stony Brook University.”
It is what he called a difficult departure, the deci- sion to close the store, because it became more than just a business. For Breun it has been an incredible ex- perience and one he, and the cash-strapped student at Stony Brook University, will never forget.