Gail Hedrick began working at UT when she was 17 years old.
On Friday, September 29, the VolShop’s senior buyer will retire from the university after more than 40 years of service.
Hedrick began working in the school supplies department of the UT Book and Supply Store, the forerunner of the VolShop, right after graduating from South Young High School in South Knoxville in May 1977. The job involved a lot of different tasks, from working as a cashier to stocking shelves to matting and framing pictures. Some days, she’d cut up to 40 mats in one day—all measured and trimmed by hand.
In time, Hedrick moved into the collegiate department, under the leadership of head buyer Ruth Booker. When Booker retired six months later, Hedrick was left to run the department.
She recalls the first home game she worked. The store made about $25,000 in sales in one day, which at that time was a windfall. Shirts sold for $3.99 to $6.99, and the most expensive clothing piece was a jacket for $39.99. Champion was the store’s largest vendor.
Before e-commerce emerged, Hedrick oversaw the catalog department, where she supervised photo shoots, catalog design, and layout. She also worked for a while in the old store’s Greek department.
Hedrick has seen the name and rebranding of the store three times, from UT Book and Supply Store to UT Bookstore to VolShop.
The biggest challenge she recalls came in 1998 when the old University Center was closed for renovations and the store had to temporarily move to the Alumni Memorial Building. When the UT football team won the national championship that year, the shop was stocked full of merchandise, but sales were hampered because fans either couldn’t find the shop or were reluctant to make the short hike to the temporary location.
One store vendor, Craftique, credits Hedrick for a whole line of products. They began manufacturing decals on her insistence; now Craftique produces decals for schools all across the country.
Through it all, Hedrick’s favorite part of the job has been the students.
“I feel like I’ve raised many a student,” she said.
Hedrick said she plans to spend retirement enjoying her two grown children and four grandchildren, learning to play banjo and fiddle, doing work around her house and yard, and restoring a 1969 Grand Torino that she’s owned since before she started working at the VolShop.