The Barnes & Noble flagship store on 5th Avenue and 18th Street closed for good on January 6, and while I generally don't bemoan the loss of chain stores, the death of bookstores makes my blood run cold. Also, this particular Barnes & Noble was special.
Bonus shot of Loehmann's goodbye sign
First, the store had been in this spot since 1932.
It was old and crummy, with the feel of a real bookstore, not a shiny shopping mall experience. The floors crackled when you walked on them. Their selection was vast--not just the bestsellers--you could find almost anything. They sold serious books. And textbooks.
When you followed one of the painted lines on the floor, you were led to the way, way back, to a room filled with textbooks arranged on old metal shelves that climbed to the high ceiling. Here, perusing professors' selections, you could find obscure titles on every subject. Students could also save money by buying used textbooks here. And you could sell your old textbooks back to the store, saving money again.
Bottom line: Yes, Barnes & Noble did their part to kill our independent shops, but this antique felt like a bookstore in New York City and not a place to pick up the latest mass market sensation and a kitten calendar at the Mall of America. (Not that I have anything against kittens.)
About a year ago, I went in to take a few photos, knowing this B&N could not last. It was too rundown, too old, too good. And just look at those bones! (You can hear the realtors gushing.) Greek columns that will look just spectacular in the new Victoria's Secret or American Eagle Outfitters or Abercrombie to come!
Reader George M. wrote in to say: "A store manager said that it will likely become a Duane Reade."
George continued, "When I moved to NYC in 1986 there were at least 30 academic-oriented bookstores spread out all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. Now there is arguably only one left (Book Culture near Columbia U) which is rapidly transforming into a general interest bookstore. As one of its employees recently commented, it's 'Out with Ovid and in with Oprah.'"
Around the corner from 18th and 5th remains the Barnes & Noble super-store on Union Square, a space that is rapidly filling up with crap--board games, stuffed animals, decorative candles, coffee mugs, kitten calendars--more crap and fewer books.
It's a grotesque process to witness, as bookstores become toy stores...
...and books become disposable.
Actual sign in the shuttered store