Thursday, January 30, 2014

Barnes & Noble Flagship

VANISHED

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

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Simple minded entertainment for simple minded people. That's where we're at, and it ain't getting any better.

Happy twerking!

Caleo said...

I'm genuinely stunned. After reading about this recent spate of closures, I didn't think I could be shocked by this tsunami anymore. I was wrong.
I'm shocked and deeply disappointed. When I moved here in 1988, New York was a book lovers dream come true.
No more, apparently. Thanks to Amazon and a generation of digitally addicted zombies who can't pick up a book.

Anonymous said...

@Caleo: I take serious issue with your put-down of people who read e-books.

What is reading about? The contents or the printed paper? Ultimately, if people are reading, it matters little where they get their books from and what medium (printed or digital) they read from.

Dave - everywhere said...

B&N is closing this store because the rent is going up. The have been very aggressive in closing stores when landlords get grabby. Not so dissimilar to what Jeremiah usually covers in other stories, except that if you walk two blocks there is a very nice B&N store on the north side of Union Square.

Anonymous said...


This is very sad…this was THE Barnes and Noble bookstore for the longest time. And well after they over-expanded in Manhattan and then retracted, this location had the best selection of any store in the city. Whoever their buyers were knew what they were doing…they had EVERYTHING here.

Books…films…music…these culture THINGS are viable for brick and mortar, it seems, which leaves…what? Clothing, it seems. Somehow fitting that something as superficial as fashion (recycling the same thing) is the only “thing” left in stores to buy. And even then, there’s no way some of these chains can make money with the insane rents their paying on Fifth Avenue and in Times Square.

Very depressing…many a Bantam Classic purchased from this location as a child.

Anonymous said...

One wonders why a hyper-expensive city like London can sustain so many large, high quality bookstores like Waterstone's and Blackwell's whereas NYC can't sustain even one. Is it because enough Londoners still read books such that the stores can pay their rent increases?

Gary Levinson said...

Back in the day you went to B Shackman next door for toys, this B&N for textbooks, and used books in the B&N Annex across the street...

Jack Womack said...

Dave - everywhere, it is true that a fine B & N is only two blocks away.

That branch has, however, in the past carried few specialist textbooks (the one at 18th was the only one in town to find books on both embalming and millinery -- seriously); and while 17th St. in the past did have the largest and deepest backlist on hand of pretty much all B & Ns in town (and of pretty much most remaining indies, once the original Coliseum closed), in the past few years the stock has been severely -- and expectedly -- circumscribed and a good deal of floor space was turned over to the (as they presently realize) pretty-much worthless Nook.

That B & N remains a fine physical new-title bookstore by present NYC standards but is as comparable to the former B & N flagship as the present Abercrombie & Fitch is to the one on Madison at 46th.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

This one was so different from the other B&Ns. Partly its stock, partly its dowdier appearance, but also its staff. My son worked there briefly, in the textbooks section at the back, and enjoyed being with older people who' d been fixtures there for many years. A lot of knowledge, a lot of pride of place, good conversation.
I always liked going to that orders counter at the back, to the left ...

laura r. said...

low brow rules.

Kimberlee Hurley said...

Jack, those are great points, but another important thing to remember is that this location also served as the official bookstore for The New School, as well as a couple other schools. As of right now the only alternative for students to purchase their books is online. The administration is still not sure what's going to happen next semester when professors need to order their books. This is a real serious loss for the area.

John Charles said...

Mixed emotions about mourning B&N and any associated sentimentality.
This is the company that decimated the Upper Westside book market. Have lived here only 15 years and seen the obliteration of so many stores due in big part to two B&Ns that absorbed them. Even though the B&N discussed in post was there a while and was old and had charm its still what it was. The lines need to be clear and boundaries drawn on this battle to save the character (what's left)
of this city.

Anonymous said...

Oh no oh no! This was my mainstay since my undergraduate years over 30 years ago. What is going on - churches closing, schools closing, bookstores closing...yogurt and cupcake shops opening, banks opening, internet booming. oh no on no!

Anonymous said...

The greatest loss is the used textbook section... it's not just students that shopped there. Believe it or not, some of us are lifelong learners, researchers, etc.

Go have your push-up yoga latte Cosmo, girl, and get over it?

Anonymous said...

Back 'in the day when we used phone books, this B&N used to be listed as "Bonds and Noble" just in case those with NYC accents could find it! (this is true)

Anonymous said...

Wow. I had no idea this closed. When did that sale annex, with the .88 bargain basement when I was a kid, across the street close. 20 years ago, along with everything else around there.
And, by the way, for some unexplained reason, I just received 2 phone books in the mail from Verizon,

Anonymous said...

this site is to become a banana republic, i believe

Anonymous said...

Can anyone name the blue character up on the wall on the Children's Department at Barnes & Noble ?? Is it a fox? Is it a beaver? It's blue and furry, it has ears and a weird tail... it is also carrying a green square, which we assume is a book.