Auburn’s downtown commercial landscape has shifted over the years, as businesses have come and gone, while others have held strong—firmly planting their roots with no intentions of giving up their spot in the Loveliest Village on the Plains.
“When we came here, there was a Jack’s down there on the corner across from the Chapel at the university, and there was a Stoker’s restaurant,” Rosemary Anders recalled. “And there was the War Eagle Supper Club that made the best pizza in the whole world, and that was about it.”
Anders’ Bookstore, which opened on Magnolia Avenue in January 1966, is one of those businesses with firm roots in Auburn’s soil—roots that have been growing now for 50 years as the community staple recognizes its golden anniversary this month.
Though the Anders family sold the store in 2005, its legacy has paved the way for it to thrive under new ownership.
“I’m proud of the fact that in those days that my family was running that store; that I’ve always felt like Anders’ Bookstore was one of the pillars of Auburn’s community,” said Auburn City Council member Ron Anders, whose parents Ronnie and Rosemary Anders founded the bookstore’s Auburn location. “We weren’t the biggest business in town, but we were a stable, consistent family business that could be counted on to be supportive of our children, our charities, our initiatives as a community; and that we certainly didn’t just receive from our community, but we always gave back to our community.”
The store’s origins
Though Anders Bookstore as an Auburn tradition started 50 years ago, the origins of the bookstore itself go back even further.
Troy Anders, father of Ronnie Anders, grew up in Tuscaloosa. Upon returning from service in World War II, he and his brother were taken under the wing of bookstore mogul Paul Malone.
“He went to work for a place in Tuscaloosa called The Soup Store,” Ronnie said. “And really what it was, was just an offshoot of the university bookstore. They had all these guys coming home from the war. And he’d serve hamburgers, hot dogs, breakfast, soup. That’s where The Soup Store came from, and they would have a few books in it.”
In 1953, Ronnie’s father moved his family to Montgomery to open the first Anders Bookstore downtown, which serviced children in grades first through 12th. It was located in the building that today houses the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce.
At the same time, Troy’s brother moved to Mobile to open another Anders Bookstore location to serve the University of South Alabama students. A third location was later opened in Lafayette, La.
“But in the mid ‘60s, the state Legislature passed a bill and started providing textbooks for all schoolchildren, which essentially put Anders’ bookstore out of business,” Ron explained. “So my granddaddy evaluated his options and made a decision to come to Auburn and open up a college bookstore.”
Ronnie and Rosemary were living in Savannah, Ga., at the time that Ronnie’s father asked them to come to Auburn to run the store. Despite inherent hesitations about Auburn, considering that Ronnie was an Alabama fan and Rosemary a Georgia Tech fan, the town quickly became home.
“It didn’t take him long to figure out that he was an Auburn fan,” Rosemary said.
“We got the store going and got it up in the spring of ’66 and struggled till that fall, and then that fall we had a new freshman class, and that just kind of put us on the map, and we’ve been here ever since,” Ronnie said.
Catering to the community
As a small-town college bookstore servicing a university of only 8,000 students when it first opened, Anders served to meet students’ needs while also eventually catering to a football-crazed community.
Anders’ first Auburn store was set up in a former fraternity house turned boarding house—what is today Magnolia Place—in between College and Wright streets on Magnolia Avenue.
In 1979, McDonald’s came to downtown Auburn, and Anders Bookstore moved to the lot adjacent to the fast-food giant, where it is still located today on the corner of Wright Street and Magnolia Avenue.
“We found out that McDonald’s was going to buy a piece of property where they are now, and so we started hunting for the people who own the house next to it,” Ronnie said. “We found them, and I guess about a year after McDonald’s opened up, we opened up a store down there and moved out of that other building. And then eventually we bought that other property on the corner and added on, put some apartments up top.”
When it opened, Anders’ main focus was on books, as well as supplies for art, architecture and engineering students, rather than Auburn souvenirs and memorabilia.
“They didn’t open up with this big huge Auburn section of hats and T-shirts and stuff in 1966,” said Ron, who was 2-years-old when the store opened. “That wasn’t what they were primarily here to do. They were primarily here to sell textbooks and some supplies.”
That changed, however, when Coach Pat Dye came to town.
“The best thing that happened to the business, souvenirs, was Pat Dye coming to Auburn,” Ronnie said. “Things started changing almost immediately when he came.”
Ronnie and Rosemary remember when former Auburn University football coach Pat Dye brought the Iron Bowl to Auburn in 1989 from Birmingham where it was previously played.
“The business that game brings and brought at that time was just overwhelming,” Rosemary said. “He put a new energy into Auburn, and I think Auburn kind of was always fighting to be as good as Alabama, and then not only did we get as good as Alabama, we got better.”
The impact of the souvenir business was immediate on Anders Bookstore.
“It just changed our thinking a lot,” Rosemary said. “We (Auburn) could be prosperous. And it was just fun with the restaurants all being busy and cars and hotels filled and everything like that, and of course that brought more business to Anders Bookstore. It directly affected us.”
As a stable business, Anders was in turn able to extend a helping hand to the community that bolstered it.
“What gives me the most sense of pride about Anders Bookstore is my family used that as a vehicle to be great supporters of all things Auburn,” Ron said, citing Anders as sponsors of Dixie Youth baseball teams, donors of door prizes and providers of jobs to college students. “I’m very proud of the fact that my family was a good community partner of the town that they lived in and cared deeply about their community and tried to be as supportive as they could with the resources that we had.”
The Anders family
With football Saturdays and the student population bringing in a slew of customers, Anders added to its ever-growing family of employees and supporters.
“I particularly miss the football fans,” Rosemary said. “A lot of those people would come in, and I knew them, and they knew me… and we would discuss their family and discuss everything going on in their lives, and it was just like part of our family really, those people were.”
As a child, Ron remembers spending time at the store while their parents were working or on game days.
“Auburn used to have a great tradition of parades affiliated with football season, and (I) just have great memories of watching all the parades, throwing toilet paper at Toomer’s and… just spending football Saturdays in and around downtown and at Samford Park and with my family,” he said.
“We created a football atmosphere that was cheerful and happy, and that was always an interesting dichotomy because when college kids came and bought books, they weren’t always real happy about doing that,” Ron explained. “But when alumni and fans and people came in to buy hats and shirts and sweatshirts and Polos, they were always generally really happy about doing that, and I felt like the family really made the football weekend experience at our store more than just a buying exercise.
"It was a coming-home and seeing-people experience, which, it was our intention to make that reflective of the Auburn experience.”
Rosemary said that Ron and his brother Kirk worked at the store when they could during school. After graduating from Auburn, Ron returned to the business in 1989 and worked there until 2007. The Anders’ now have four grandchildren—one of whom lives in the apartments above the store and works there in between school breaks.
On game days, "the pep band would come by and play, and Ron coming back in the business was really fun because he brought a lot of energy,” Rosemary recalled. “And we started doing a lot of different things. We’d have games set up outside and have different things going on out there, and it was just—the people were excited; it was a fun time.”
In addition to football fans and relatives, Anders Bookstore also cultivated a family among its employees, with as many as 50 people employed there during the busy beginnings of quarters and semesters.
“We had some great, great, great young people,” Ronnie said. “And we developed them, and the majority of them would stay with us for a while until either their class schedule or graduation or whatever (caused them to leave)—and we trusted them. We gave them a lot of responsibilities.”
Time for a change
After decades of memories logged related to football festivities and the hustle and bustle of new semesters at Auburn University, the Anders sold the store in 2005 to Nebraska Book Company.
“We got really lucky, and somebody decided that they would like the store more than we do, and it was a good time to get out,” Ronnie said.
This past summer, Follett Higher Education Group, which owns more than 1,300 on- and off-campus college bookstores across the country, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, acquired Anders Bookstore from Nebraska Book Company.
“We’re proud of who owns it now, and we feel like they have sold down all the merchandise that was in there, and they’re bringing in all new stock, and we think that they will do a good job for the students,” Ronnie said. “We’re proud to have them down at Anders. But the property is ours and our children’s and our grandchildren’s, and we’re excited to own that property in downtown Auburn.”
Tony Holt, regional manager for Follett Higher Education Group, explained that one of Follett’s initial goals is to replace dated stock from the previous owners with new merchandise.
Today, Anders offers students new, used, rented and digital textbook options, as well as a range of both general and major-specific school supplies. Meeting game day needs for the community will also be a continued priority, according to Holt.
“It’s amazing to see the same people and people four states away that are coming back for these home games that this is just part of the pilgrimage for them—every football season to come in,” Holt said. “So we’re very proud to be able to continue that legacy for the Anders’ family.”
Holt said that Follett plans to do significant remodeling and renovation to the store over the summer to meet Follett standards, as well as live up to the reputation Anders has exhibited in the Auburn community for the past five decades.
“The reality of it is, you think about the past 50 years, and you think about some of the economic times that we’ve gone through in the last 50 years with this store, whether it was in this location or another location… (the fact that) Anders bookstore has been able to survive those I think is a testament to their ability to manage those stores and bring in the product that the customers are looking for, so certainly that’s what we’re certainly trying to strive to do as well,” Holt said.