It is interesting to note that eccentricity — a term typically used to denote misalignment with ordinary conventions — is slowly making its way into the mainstream. What was once considered strange or odd-ball is now being celebrated as an expression of unique individuality, celebrated for its obscurity. It is for this very reason that the General Store, or “G-Store,” has flourished into such a vibrant and necessary part of campus life.
Every time I walk into the store I feel like I discover something new: a poster that features some 1980’s rock band, a sign that for no apparent reason reads “elf power,” or a secret back door that opens up out of a bookshelf. Along with the eclecticness of these pieces, it’s often impossible to distinguish how long they’ve been there. Many signs are faded while others seem arbitrarily placed; several are crudely drawn using what appears to be crayon. And while there seems to be no particular order or consistency within the store’s organization, it is rather evident that everything is perfectly in its place.
According to a sign hanging inside (and I was told very firmly that G-Store signs never lie or embellish), the General Store was initially established in 1980 by like-minded students who had an interest in purchasing discounted Levi‘s jeans. While Levi’s are no longer offered at the store (though I’m going to use this platform to insist that they bring them back), the store’s repertoire has grown to encompass a wide variety of products: snacks, blue books, guitar strings, PlayStation 1 consoles, posters, coffee, and oversized band T-shirts. The store advertises that it carries “a little bit of everything, not a lot of anything” and its wide variety of products attests to that. Yet while there may not always be rhyme or reason as to why each type of product is found at the store, there is purpose in how they got there.
The General Store is managed by a few dozen staff members and interns (called “noobs”) and each member is placed in charge of a particular part of the store, what they refer to as accounts. As members are welcomed aboard, they’re asked to take on an account, something for them to take full ownership of; this is a way of demonstrating responsibility as well as familiarizing noobs with the store itself. Through this, the store remains in a constant state of growth; always evolving as new members join every quarter, bringing something of their own to the table.
Each member is essential to the store’s functions. Being non-hierarchical, maintaining the store and all its faculties is a group effort, one that they take on very feverishly. G-Store member Rachel Adams noted, “It’s kinda like the G-Store is my child, or not really; that’s kinda weird.” The weirdness is evident, but the sentiment rings true.
Give students what they want and give it to them cheap.
With the products they carry, the store attempts to fulfill two unspoken mantras: give students what they want and give it to them cheap. In this way, they work to bridge the gap left by the more conventional on-campus markets. Since many students have limited transportation options it’s often difficult to get ahold of “novelty items” such as video games, records, and comic books, all of which the General Store supplies, often at a discounted rate.
“It’s not anything we have in our policies or anything; it’s just some unwritten rule that we’re trying to help students out,” said Rachel, who is also manager of the store’s PR account. “I guess that’s part of being a student run collective — it’s the sort of mindset we all take.” I asked her if she was obligated to say that because she was in charge of PR. She told me no.
But even going beyond the products it sells, the store maintains its relevance through the space that it provides students. The General Store is located in the Original Student Center where it is one of the last remaining holdout of what used to be a thriving community of at least 19 student co-ops and collectives. Along with it’s co-residents (including the Food Co-Op and Groundworks Books), the G-Store proudly stands as the antithesis of the common campus culture, which is often seen as sterile and pre-packaged. Because of this, the store has gained a reputation for attracting artists, musicians, and other creatives. On any given afternoon it’s not uncommon to hear the sounds of swing music coming from the piano and see the rush of other passing students heading inside to join them for an impromptu jam session. There is something uniquely open about the atmosphere, as people nestle together on the old worn out couches that are arranged in the fashion of an comfy living room; it feels as if anyone can become part of the conversation. In complete step with the store’s disposition, the conversations are casual, the people are easygoing, and the vibe is light.
On any given afternoon it’s not uncommon to hear the sounds of swing music coming from the piano
From the outside it may appear dark and dingy and a complete subversion of the campus, but it is this very subversion of expectations that makes this store invaluable. Uniformity is not bad, but uniformity for the sake of constraint holds no merit; its only goal is confinement. Therefore, a store with the word “vagtastical” (a.k.a. my new favorite word) crudely scrawled on the side of a shelf, must be celebrated. Not only for the ingenuity of the word “vagtastical,” but because if a store is willing to allow such a comment to remain on its premise (perhaps out of style and perhaps out of disregard, though I don’t think the distinction particularly matters either way), then there is something very unique in its essence. And it is something worth exploring and keeping around.
The General Store is a non profit, non-hierarchical student co-op on UCSD campus that is open Monday to Saturday. They hold open mic and karaoke nights quarterly.