Campus Closeup: Linda Sides
When Linda Sides started working in the gift department of the NMU Bookstore 27 years ago, the bulk of her customers were students. Back then, few brought cars with them to campus, so they couldn’t make frequent trips to local stores. And e-commerce, which has transformed the shopping experience with expanded options and multiple price comparisons, was—like the Internet that spawned it—pure fantasy.
“Students, employees and alumni remain our primary customers, but the market is constantly changing,” said Sides. “We used to sell about $1,000 worth of Valentine’s cards each day over a five-day period. Now we don’t do $1,000 total. We still offer some greeting cards, but they’re being phased out and we literally switched around the department fixtures to reflect that.
Bargain books have become a big hit, so we’ve moved those toward the front. We also have a section featuring books by local authors and I’ll put together book promotions tied to particular events such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month or Black History Month.”
Nothing in the gift department is required for class, so Sides has the freedom and also the challenge of deciding what items to stock. She views prospective merchandise, makes selections, puts together a purchase order, receives the deliveries and then prices and displays the items.
“I used to do a lot of special ordering for faculty and staff. For example, if someone was into frogs, we would order gifts along that line. We don’t do much of that anymore. But since B. Dalton in the mall closed, we have seen an increase in special orders for books. There’s less traffic coming through the UC these days, but if they follow through on the master plan to move us to the center of campus, I think the gift department will do more business.”
Sides is responsible for all gifts, including those adorned with the NMU name or logo, such as mugs, key chains and ornaments (clothing is a separate department). Her duties have expanded to trade books and available food/beverages for sale. She also fills in elsewhere in the store as needed.
Several years ago, Sides helped to facilitate campus-wide customer service training. “I handed out books and talked about the attitude we project to customers. I enjoyed doing it and it was good for me, too. I think it helped the university overall.
“Working with people is the best part of my job,” she said. “I don’t allow negativity; I keep things positive. We all need to just take time to look at what we do in our jobs and appreciate it. Having a good boss and variety in what I do every day also helps. I like to mentor students on setting up displays or school issues. I even help them with personal issues if they confide in me.”
Before coming to Northern, Sides worked at Shopko. While there, an NMU Bookstore employee told her she would be perfect for an open position. She applied successfully, but turned down the offer because “it wouldn’t have been fair to Shopko to leave in August when it was such a busy time." The job was still open in December, but then it was the holiday rush. Sides started at NMU on Jan. 4. For a time, she also worked part-time at Laura's Hallmark, gaining additional experience with gift buying and store displays.
Sides is a native of Vanderbilt, near Gaylord. When her ex-husband lost a job downstate and was debating whether to go back to school in Detroit or Marquette, they chose the latter because they wanted to raise their family in the Upper Peninsula.
Her two sons—both married with children—remain in the area. Sides enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, reading and spending weekends at her camp in Thompson. “I don’t like shopping. I’m in a store all day long, so it’s the last place I want to spend my free time.”