School stores march into real-world sales Operations become sophisticated, 'almost like entrepreneurships'

December 26, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF AB Contributing writer Kristi E. Swartz provided information for this article.

High school stores, once a quick place to buy a pencil or notebook, are evolving around the country and Maryland into sophisticated centers for educational and altruistic rewards, career and creative development, and sometimes, big profits.

In and around Baltimore, stores are the focus of marketing classes, the showcase for student art designs and a place to get community service credit. Some stores are involved in school budgets, pooling profits to buy computers for schools or gifts for international students.

The Baltimore area isn't alone in turning school stores into microbusinesses that do more than sell supplies. Near Milwaukee, high school accounting students keep the books and plow profits into scholarships. In an Oklahoma town with about 200 residents, the school store is the town's only place to buy groceries. A Virginia store offers discounts to students who stay out of trouble, and an Arizona store invests profits in the stock market.

"They've become almost like entrepreneurships," said Patricia Gronkiewicz, principal of North County High School in Ferndale in Anne Arundel County, where a large school store rakes in hundreds of dollars in sales each week and reaps as much as $3,000 in profits each year.

She said educators are trying to make what goes on in schools match what's going on in the real world while serving students.

The history of school stores, including where and when the first one opened, is hard to run down. Individual schools run each store, and no central entity monitors them.

But the idea is more than three decades old. A school store at New Rochelle High School 15 miles from New York City opened in 1963.

Stores are almost universal around the Baltimore area.

Sixty-four of the 82 high schools in the region sell anything from T-shirts, homemade snacks and calculators to water bottles, key chains and monogrammed coats.

Twenty-three of the 24 Baltimore County high schools have stores, as do four of 10 high schools in Howard County, three of five in Carroll County, all nine in Harford County, seven of 12 in Anne Arundel County, and 11 of 21 in Baltimore City.

In those schools, cafeteria space, vacant classrooms, mobile carts and swatches of hallway are Campus Consumer Centrals, attracting dozens of buyers and browsers each day.

North County store

At North County High, the school store is open for a half-hour before school and a half hour after.

Senior Tanika Nelson, 17, and other students in an advanced marketing class select items they expect will sell well, find vendors to supply the materials, mark up the items 10 percent and roll some of the profits into more merchandise.

They hawk North County sweat shirts, T-shirts, backpacks and coffee mugs from a former classroom converted into a store with the addition of two mannequins in school garb. They also sell homemade cookies baked by the school's home economics class, and at prom time, they rent tuxedos.

"If you have a question, I'll ask you if I can help you," said Tanika, who has worked in the store for two years and wants to go into business. "I help run the cash register, I help with visual display, I keep the store clean, I do inventory, I do invoices, oh, and I count the till every day."

Her creative abilities have found a home at the store. Using a "Where's Waldo?" theme -- substituting the school mascot, a knight, for the Waldo caricature -- she designed a T-shirt that won a schoolwide contest. The shirts were sold at the store.

Recently, students were looking for gifts -- not to give, but to receive, said Tanika, who works most mornings. They would select a coat or nightshirt and then "they'll tell their parents, 'That's what I want for Christmas,' and the parents will come and buy it for them," she said.

The store at City College in Northeast Baltimore is a smaller version of North County's. The City College store lists prices on a blackboard in the small first-floor shop.

The store, which is also open for about an hour a day, is run by a chemistry teacher and two students. One student said the hottest item is an orange padded seat cushion that says "City College" in black.

Parents run the store

The store is operated another way at South Carroll High School in Winfield, which has 1,500 students from Mount Airy, Sykesville and Eldersburg. Parents run the show, and students are the customers.

About 15 parent volunteers work a few lunch periods each month, selling baseball caps, combs, sweat shirts, varsity jackets, zip-front pullovers, pencils, batteries and poster paper. Daily sales amount to about $100.

The store, set up seven years ago near the cafeteria, is a stuffy, windowless, 10-foot by 10-foot booth where volunteers stand on one side of a counter and students on the other. Black and gold scrunchies (hair ties) and $5 necklace key-holders are the hottest items, said Ann Ballard, a volunteer who tries to hold down prices so all students can afford the items.

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