Should we be crying for Barnes & Noble?

A Barnes & Noble store in Corte Madera, Calif.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Barnes & Noble isn’t near dead, but a lot of writers are lining up to lament its passing. They say the chain’s demise would be a blow to books, especially in suburban America.

Last week, Barnes & Noble announced that it would close about 20 stores each year over the next decade, leaving at least 450 stores (before the Great Recession struck, the chain had 726). Suddenly, the book behemoth, once seen as responsible (with its vanquished foe, Borders) for the demise of many an independent bookstore, is being celebrated for its contribution to book culture.

“But then, as now, Barnes & Noble had its place,” Mark Athitakis writes in the New Republic, remembering when the chain was spreading through American suburbia. “Its stores were designed to keep people parked for a while, for children’s story time, for coffee klatches, for sitting around and browsing.… It brought literary culture to pockets of the country that lacked them.”


To a landscape of bowling alleys and bars and malls with ample parking but few good novels, Barnes & Noble brought shelves stacked with the literary canon and also a place to hang out, Athitakis writes. Now Starbucks has brought the hangout to middle and working America — but not the books.

Writing in the Washington Post blog, Alexandra Petri called for book lovers to stage an “intervention” to rescue Barnes & Noble.

“You say you are closing a third of your physical bookstores over the next decade, all while admitting they are not unprofitable?” Petri writes. “Please listen to yourself.” Petri says she’s afraid Barnes & Noble will give up brick and mortar bookstore in the name of chasing e-book profits.

“You are all that stands between us and the nightmarish vision of a world where the only place unused books are sold is at Urban Outfitters, as decorative ironic curios, along with vinyl records and toilet brushes shaped like owls,” Petri writes.

In the Atlantic, Peter Osnos summarizes all the business strategy and data behind the decision, and considers what will be lost when Barnes & Noble closes its bookstore inside Washington, D.C.’s, Union Station later this month. The closing of similarly well placed stores in Seattle, New York, Chicago and other places points to “a broader brick and mortar contraction that suggests -- disturbingly — [the company’s] long-term decline.”



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