Home » Bookstores » Requiem for a bookstore

Requiem for a bookstore

30 December 2015

From The New York Daily News:

A girl about 5 years old sits on the floor with Dr. Seuss. A teenage boy in a hoodie checks out the young-adult fiction. A white-haired man flips through a military history.

They’re all visiting the Barnes & Noble on Austin Street in Forest Hills, Queens, on a recent Saturday afternoon. And right now the joint is jumping. Eleven customers stand on line, three cashiers at the ready.

But seeing is deceiving, as James Joyce wrote. For soon this bookstore, at this location since 1995 and all of three blocks from where I live, will close shop. The rent is going to triple, and Target will move in. A petition to save the store, signed by 5,700 local residents, went for naught.

. . . .

Last year, Barnes & Noble closed its branch in Fresh Meadows, and it will do the same with its Bayside store this year. That will leave the chain unrepresented in Queens, home to 2.3 million people and the most ethnically diverse place on the planet.

Yes, this city has a great library system, granting New York natives and immigrants alike easy access to literally tons of literature, not to mention a vast inventory of music and other culture, all for free.

But sometimes you want to own a book, to claim it as yours alone rather than share it, to take it home and put it on your night table and keep it for as long as you wish.

. . . .

[B]ooks are supposed to be different from toaster ovens. Books are meant to be cradled in your hand. To have pages you can turn with your fingertips. To have words printed in ink. We often visit bookstores in a quest for stories, insights, the truth.

Which is why, in France, lawmakers have barred discount-crazy online retailers from killing brick-and-mortar competitors. You can say that law is anti-Amazon — but really it’s pro-bookstore.

Link to the rest at The New York Daily News and thanks to Nate for the tip.


42 Comments to “Requiem for a bookstore”

  1. Whine, whine, whine…

    No bookstores left in Queens anymore.

    Whine, whine, whine…

    Uh, Amazon is as close as your computer, tablet, or smartphone. It’s local everywhere.

    Enjoy your shopping at Target.

  2. “Books are meant to be cradled in your hand. To have pages you can turn with your fingertips. To have words printed in ink.”

    Actually, they’re meant to be read.

    Books aren’t about the medium in which they’re produced, they’re about the story contained within. And if the story isn’t enough to transport you, maybe you should try a different one.

  3. Sigh. Yet again, they’re shooting at the wrong target. The key phrase is this one:

    “The rent is going to triple…”

    This is the same thing that killed Borders: The demand for high returns from real-estate speculators (although then, it was related in part to the fallout from mortgages). It’s still about the pass-through effect of real-estate speculation on anyone who needs somewhere to do business. Amazon’s major advantage is that by operating warehouses, it has fewer — and more-difficult-to-reprice — locations to worry about. (This is also part of the reason that Costco has been successful.)

    Most sophisticated financial analysts have been treating B&N as primarily a real-estate play since about 2006. The Forest Hills location is an example of why.

    • When a 20+ year lease runs out the rent will go to market rate which will usually be 2x or 3x the old which was set 20+ years previously. This is why a lease with 10 years to go in a now expensive area is an asset worth quite a bit of money.

      • It has been suggested that B&N can make more mojey selling their Manhattan and Brooklyn leases than selling books. Or toys. Or booze.

  4. I particularly enjoyed the first three sentences here, in which the little girl got to read Seuss, the hoodied teen boy YA, and the white-haired oldster military history.

    All is right with the world when the proper people hold the assigned “real” books in their hands and turn pages with their fingertips.

    What if the old guy read Seuss, the teen read military history, and the little girl had her Dad read her YA? They can all hold ereaders in their hands and turn electronic pages with their fingertips… or even listen to audiobooks! Imagine the possibilities if the readers were set free into the wilderness of what is actually availalable…

  5. A petition to save the store, signed by 5,700 local residents, went for naught.

    Just who were they petitioning? And for what?

    Is the landlord supposed to lose money by charging a lower rent than the property is worth? Is the B&N supposed to lose money by paying more in rent than it takes in via sales?

    Society at large tends to reflect our values as they are made real in our actions. Fewer readers are shopping at B&N.

    Also… why all the love for a behemoth chain that put all the small local booksellers out of business?

    • “Also… why all the love for a behemoth chain that put all the small local booksellers out of business?”

      Why indeed.

      They make it sound like B&N can’t be replaced by an Indie bookstore. Once B&N is gone, someone will find a cheap storefront and open a shop.

    • “Also… why all the love for a behemoth chain that put all the small local booksellers out of business?”

      Because the Memory Loss is strong in this one. 🙂


      • And because the big publishers would rather deal with one big bookseller than thousands of little ones …

        And it’s hard to claim you’re a best seller if people can only find you in the discount bin at Wal-mart …

  6. Am I the only one old enough to remember when the big chain stores like B&N, Walden’s, Borders, etc., were the villains, excoriated by the critics for killing the quirky little local bookstores? Now they are the nostalgic victims of the evil monster Amazon, who has the audacity of using convenience, price, and killer customer service to replace those same wonderful chain stores. Somehow in my hometown, the quirky private bookstores are doing quite well, thank you, mostly be specializing in books that appeal to a niche market. If I want one particular book, Amazon is the bomb. If I want to browse among feminist books, or mysteries, or religious books, there are thriving bookstores to match my taste. I might even buy a bookmark, greeting card, notebook, accessory, or who knows what I didn’t know I needed until I saw it in the bookstore? When I don’t even know that, there are the multiple used bookstores that sell books and lots of other stuff, too. Seems like there is more room than meets the eye at first glance.

  7. Smart Debut Author

    But… wait! Print is back!
    *blows kazoo*
    I read it in the New York Times, so it must be true!
    *throws confetti*
    Yaaay… Who’s with me?
    *blows lonely note on kazoo*
    Anyone? Anyone? Bueller…?

    • You can play the kazoo??

      Seriously, wow.

      I can play the comb. But it took years of practice.

      • Used to play the kazoo. Family members and co-workers kept making them disappear.

        Everyone’s a (music) critic.

      • Smart Debut Author

        I stand impressed. My own musical talents are, sadly, quite meager.

        Last night, I managed to entertain kids and relatives at a family holiday gathering by finger-rubbing Mary had a Little Lamb out of a trio of wet wine-glass rims. But that’s about as far as my musical skills reach.

  8. But …the feel. The smell. My personal nostalgia. WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?

  9. Oh the humanity!

  10. Bezos is smart enough to build and own his locations. The real estate taxes will go up, they always do, but not the rent.

  11. Payback’s a bitch ain’t it! 😀

  12. A petition to save the store, signed by 5,700 local residents, went for naught.

    I fear I am failing the 5,700. I’m choosing my personal welfare over theirs.

    • Well, if each of those 5700 had bought several more books per month then maybe B&N could have paid the higher rents. So I think they made the same choice as you, but they added in complaining about how someone else should fix it.

      • Maybe if the 5,700 had pledged $1,000 a month B&N could have afforded to keep that one place open — and selling towels (to throw in), cheese (to go with their whine), and wine (to drown their sorrows).

        Just don’t expect to find the book you want — or them to be able to order it for you easier than it is for you to go online to Amazon …

    • Smart Debut Author

      Of course that petition, signed by only 5,700 local residents, went for naught. By comparison, a 2012 petition to ban the sale of whale and dolphin meat locally drew over 200,000 signatures.

      Instead, they should have gathered 900 signatures from the members of Residents United. Because 900 > 5,700. Or something.

      Don’t they know Whale Math? 😀

      • It all comes back to Whale Math(tm), doesn’t it?

        You know, if that bookstore had *bothered* to stock waterproof, very very very large print books I bet the whales would have signed that petition to save it, but noooooo. Doesn’t B&N understand whales like to fondle…OK, imagine fondling books too?

  13. Some readers like paper books and picking their books off the shelves at a bookstore. I think it’s okay for them to be nostalgic about their loss of a choice/activity they enjoyed.

    I don’t know why this nostalgia is met with . . .what?. . . derision? Am I missing something?

    Signed: She who loves her Paperwhite

    • I sympathize with their nostalgia (to a degree). I find their wish to ignore the way economics work irritating.

      • I ignore economics everyday, JM. 🙂

        Maybe that’s my problem . . .

      • If they want to ignore economics, I wish them the best. Sounds like a noble calling.

        But many articles like this expect the rest of us to do the same. It seems based on the notion that books are special, and shouldn’t be subject to the same econimic forces that affect all other goods.

        It’s the toaster oven that is special. It’s made for filling the kitchen with the crisp aroma of toast on a chilly winter morning. I remember warming my hands over the toaster oven after morning chores.

        • If B&N had purchased their store locations in lieu of leasing them, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But I know nothing about the market in NYC, maybe purchase was impossible. Or maybe the suits scratched their heads and said, “Maybe we’d better hedge our bets and lease…people in NYC might not be reading much longer.” (?)

          • A few years ago, a major stockholder tried to make Target sell all its property and then lease it back. It’s a huge profit generator — for that first year or so. Then of course Mr. Stockholder cashes out and leaves Target to deal with the consequences. Maybe B&N got tricked into a scam like that?

            Or maybe they were expanding quickly at that time and didn’t have the money to purchase property. 1995 was boom time for them, wasn’t it?

          • If they had purchased all that real estate, they would now be leasing it to the highest bidder rather than running bookstores.

  14. there has been since the supremes decision on ‘domains’ by city condemnation processes, a far larger issue than bn or cheap goods ‘small’ target. I’d rather hear from the citizens who live and pay taxes there, the whole lot of them, and what they want on pier 6 and the places where actual owners used to also be the users of the commercial spaces. As it is, my guess is most here, including self, could not afford to buy decent in Queens. There are a few developers who also follow the philosophy of Christopher, for communities having ample space for all income levels, and not just one more town built by the backs of those who founded and lived there for sometimes centuries, to become the sealed communities of the wealthy.

    There is not only commerce as a north star. There are other features to living together that make life not only worth living, but a life within reach of many, including artists, dancers, theatre, garden growing, commerce of many kinds, instead of only the few rich whose developments are larded with the same cr stores for instance, no matter what city one is in. It’s the eccentric and the creative that dont flatten everything out by rote.

    Oddly over the years, we see this out here too in the wide open spaces. Rich guys come meet with local governments all palsywalsy instead of the people, promising tax bases that the moderate income people can not sustain… taxes rise then on the working class, soon they can barely afford the prop taxes… it is an old old stragegy to starve out an entire layer of the town, and buy up their properties and turn them at prices only rich can afford. Many a town out west has sent the palsywalsys packing; we live in a time, when esp the young, can see ’em comin, and prefer instead to keep on living as they have, fewer fancies, far more beauty for all.

    Just a .02


  15. May I ask why the reporter decided to mention that Queens is a very diverse place? Is that relevant to the story? Would he have considered the absence of a bookstore less lamentable if Queens had been ethnically homogeneous?

    • I think the reporter would have to answer for they may have a specific in mind. Just a .02, but like Brooklyn, Harlem, and other of the b’s that used to be diverse because of affordable costs– ‘diversity in terms of income, education differences, job types, mixtures of mainstream and subcultures that used to be interspersed, including ethnic, lifestyle, race, has and is changing dramatically to whomever can pay the prices of housing, have the equip perhaps and the station at work, to work from home sometimes, etc., and increasingly pay for other lifestyle differences, in say childhood ed.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.