Barnes & Noble's Departure: It's Not Personal

Big box stores need to do a big business in order to sign a big lease.

I am a writer. So, naturally, I am a reader.

I taught myself to read and devoured Ramona the Pest and the Little House books before kindergarten was over. My husband is impressed that if I like a book, I can plow through 500 pages in a weekend.

Like many people in Reston, I could spend many a day at Barnes & Noble and the late Books-A-Million browsing, flipping, reading and buying.

But lately? Not so much. I don't think I have made more than a handful of purchases in the last two years.

Much like music and news, books have become personal. We can pick the music we like and send it right to our phones and iPods. An entire library can be stored on an iPad. All you have to do is hit a search button and the name of that book that you heard about on NPR but were driving and couldn't write down the author's name comes right to you. One more click, and the book can come right to you, too. Heck, Siri could probably tell you what you are looking for.

Over the last few years, I have acquired a Nook (Barnes & Noble's e-reader) and an Amazon Prime subscription. The e-reader is great for impulse purchases. Search, click and read, even at 11 p.m. on a Saturday. Amazon is great for gift-sending to out-of-town relatives and bulk purchases. My son needed about eight novels for his 11th grade English class. Search and click — and Amazon could tell what else I needed based on the searches of others, no doubt parents of other FCPS students. The books arrived on my doorstep 24 hours later.

I suspect these tools have been life changing — or at least shopping changing — for many other people as well.

Yes, many still love the feel of a book in their hands, browsing pages, lovingly storing hardbacks on a shelf. Some people also no doubt loved the crackle an album made when you dropped the needle onto the turntable, the whir of a VCR tape rewinding or a trip to the video store to stock up for a snow day.

Sadly, bookstores might soon go the way of the video store and the record player.

Borders is no more, Books-a-Million has scaled back and among other places nationwide — though they reconsidered in one market where they had just one store in a 100-mile radius or so.

What we have to remember is this: It's not personal; it's business. (That's also the motto of Tom Hanks' character, Joe Fox, when he tells children's book store owner Meg Ryan to fight for her store in the movie You've Got Mail. Very current for a 15-year-old movie, no?)

I don't know exactly what was in the lease that Lerner Enterprises wanted the Barnes & Noble to sign, but I do know the store says it wanted to come to terms. But are any bookstores thinking longterm these days? Retail leases are generally for 10 years or more. Can a bookstore look that far into the future when the future is financially shaky?

The building up, up, up like so much of Reston with more housing, retail and office space. Could they commit to sticking around through that when no one knows what the bottom line is going to be?

Restonians have generally greeted the Barnes & Noble news with disappointment. There is an online petition, as well as a elementary school student's petition asking the company to reconsider — or at least think of a new location.

Readers of Patch have chimed in with their thoughts on the site and on Reston Patch's Facebook page bemoaning the death of reading — or at least the death of browsing.

"I have spent many a rainy day there drinking coffee and looking at books," said one reader. "I take my preschooler to play with the trains. Where are we supposed to go when it is snowing or too cold?" says another.

Remember, it is business. Browsing with a latte is not a business plan. If everyone who was there to kill time (myself included) would have left with an armful of books (that they could have gotten cheaper online) or the toys and gifts the store sold (to improve its bottom line), bookstores like Barnes & Noble may be more confident in the future.

The Container Store lease is a done deal, but I wish activists the best in inspiring change. It can work. Read this recent Atlantic Monthly story about novelist Ann Patchett, who, after the Borders and another big bookstore closed in her town of Nashville, opened Parnassus Books — an independent bookstore (even though she knows it is a risky venture and startup costs were $300,000).

Patchett's store reminds me that perhaps — and it is a big perhaps — the big boxes leaving mean it may be time for independent stores to fill the need people still have for browsing, flipping, reading and latte drinking.

So, anyone have $300,000 to spare?

joe brewer December 16, 2012 at 04:41 PM
I got Sports Illustrated Football's Greatest for 12 dollars less at Costco. The same titles to be had at Wal-Mart up to 50% cheaper. If you are buying from Barnes and Noble you have proved you should not be driving a car or voting because of poor judgments.
Linda December 16, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Joe, This is such a strange comment to be making. I buy books from everywhere - B & N - BJ's (altho their selection is a lot smaller now) - Wal Mart, used bookstores, independent bookstores when I can find them. I use my reader's advantage card and coupons at B & N. I get many many hardbacks that way for at least half the price. I get discounts on the magazines I buy there, cards I buy there. I keep many people employed because of my purchases at B & N - people who will now be out of jobs. Then I visit Starbucks and help keep them employed - altho this location will now be gone along with the B & N and MORE people will be out of jobs. I then donate all the books I buy to the Reston Library. Many go on the shelves for Patrons to utilize - many others go into sales - and therefore that earns money to purchase things for the library. I also check books out of the library. I'm a huge booklover - I like to read books, look at books, touch them, and on and on... It isn't about what price I pay for the book - it is about the pleasure of reading it - discovering new authors while browsing at the brick and mortar stores - of all kinds.... If I don't have a book with me for some odd reason (because I always do) - I will read the back of a cereal box....
Aalliiee Marie December 20, 2012 at 12:35 AM
First off, I would like to say that as long as books exist, I will NEVER use an e-reader. I spend a good 3-4 hours per night staring at a computer screen in order to finish my homework. I don't need to continue staring at screens when I want to read a book. I have my license, but the other Barnes and Noble locations are too far from me, especially with my IB course load and the 20+ hours per week I spend managing basketball. I live in North Reston, near Lake Fairfax. With traffic, the Fair Oaks location is nearly an hour away from me, and although it only takes me about 20 minutes to get to Tyson's, in rush hour that time is easily doubled. Besides, the parking at Tyson's 2 (especially this time of year), is absolutely horrendous. Although I REALLY like the RUBS and it is within walking distance of my house, it obviously doesn't have as wide a selection as Barnes and Noble. I agree with Karen that Amazon is wonderful for assigned reading, however it isn't practical if you just want to browse. A few years ago, when Books-A-Million was my go-to bookstore, I often arrived at Plaza America with $20 to spend on books. I didn't always know what I wanted to get, but I always ended up spending the money after sometimes several hours of browsing. Although my parents often criticized my "impulsive shopping tendencies", I discovered some of my favorite novels and authors just from doing this. Where will we go to do that now? That's something that Amazon just can't offer.
unknownauthor March 04, 2013 at 03:37 AM
I really like to read and do both ebooks and physical books. But sometimes after spending all day on a computer the last thing you want to do is look at a screen. Hope they do not get rid of the Library! That would be a total disaster now that the bookstore is gone. You can get ebooks on the Library website now. But I love going there and just browsing and seeing people. Love thier book sales. Its like going to Town Center sitting next to the fountain. Reston needs more places that encourage community not another store with stuff in it that you can get at 50 other places.
Mike R. May 12, 2013 at 02:40 PM
Unlike the closing of Books A Million, this business decision had nothing to do with the current trends in the book market. The Reston B&N was always packed with customers. It provided a great excuse to visit that part of Reston as it provided a wonderful experience to residents of all ages. If the owner of Spectrum thinks he'll get the same sustained traffic for the Container Store, he's dreaming. He's looking at a short term gain, but he'll realize his mistake when the Container Store goes out of business in a few years. The only thing residents can do is send a message by boycotting the Container Store, and hopefully quicken its demise. Only then will the owner be open to B&N returning. This is what corporate America refuses to acknowledge: the power is with the peolpe/consumers, not the corporations who are trying to fabricate consumers.


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