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Louise Little, recently retired CEO of University Book Store, spent 42 years making the student-founded store the best it could be.

By Hannelore Sudermann | Photos by Ron Wurzer | June 2024 issue

From textbooks to T-shirts and coffee mugs to caps and gowns, Louise Little, ’81, has been at the center of all things UW for more than 40 years. Starting as a temporary cashier in 1980 and recently retiring as CEO at University Book Store, she has shepherded the 124-year-old landmark through major changes, the advent of the internet and online retail, the expansion of products and apparel, the ups and downs on the Ave and a closure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even though we’re an independent for-profit company, our mission has always been to serve and benefit the students, faculty and staff of the University—with students in the foreground,” Little says. Once the store moved off campus and onto the Ave., the managers quickly discovered that serving the greater community in addition to students was good for business.

“We were the No. 1 bookseller in the city for many years,” Little says. The store is also a national leader in terms of sales volume among college bookstores.

After college, Little was hoping to work in human resources. A position opened up at the student-founded bookstore, and “I got the job,” she says. “One thing led to another, and I had a career. I loved that the store had a mission I believed in.

“It was like a second family,” Little says. “The bookstore always attracted the most creative, interesting people who were truly a joy to work with.”  In 1989, Little became the director of human resources and took over as CEO in 2013. It wasn’t a role she sought, but at that point, she knew more about the store than anyone else.

“When you think about Louise Little and her 42-plus year career at the bookstore, you have to recognize her excellent leadership and guidance through turbulent times and through having to modernize to meet the changing needs of students and the University community,” says Paul Rucker, ’95, ’02, the UW’s vice president for alumni and stakeholder engagement. “She leaves a remarkable legacy of service and impact.”

Louise Little is the recipient of the 2024 UW Alumni Association Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes outstanding service or devotion to the Alumni Association, the University of Washington and the alumni community.