Could Barnes & Noble’s return to this Bay Area city signal a resurgence of bookstores? – The Mercury News


There’s not much about the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Concord that stands out from the corporate behemoth’s other locations: board games, sunglasses, greeting cards and other trinkets line the walls near the actual bookshelves, which prominently display the latest big-name political memoirs and celebrity tell-alls.

And to Nicole Brown, a mother of three and lifelong reader, the glossy retailer reflects little about her intimate relationship with literature. But the chain has been around long enough for her to carry a “soft spot” for it.

“It was the Amazon of the bookstores,” Brown, who lives in Benicia, said of Barnes & Noble. “And now I think there are so few actual brick-and-mortar bookstores that we’re just so happy to have them.”

That could bode well for Barnes and Noble’s latest Bay Area addition: a new locally-focused store which is making a comeback Wednesday on Locust Street in Walnut Creek, seven years after the previous outlet on Main Street was shuttered. The new store in the East Bay shopping mecca offers a fresh business model that bucks the company’s previous top-down, nationalized approach.

But Brown’s nostalgia for B&N isn’t always universally shared — especially among people who loved their cozy local bookstores and the knowledgeable people who worked in them.

Decades ago, the national retail giant thoroughly crushed local independent booksellers by packing gigantic stores with bestsellers ordered out of the company’s corporate offices in Manhattan.

But not long after the turn of this century, Barnes & Noble and its peers, including the now-defunct Borders, were dealt a similar blow by the explosion of online booksellers, namely Amazon, which threatened to kill off most in-person shopping altogether.

Barnes & Noble spent years trying to survive by selling goods and accessories that weren’t written words between two covers, but by the mid-2010s its fleet of Bay Area locations saw a wave of closures, including in San Jose, Fremont and in 2015, Walnut Creek.

CONCORD, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 26: Customers shop at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. Barnes and Noble will open a new location in Walnut Creek next month. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
CONCORD, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 26: Customers shop at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. Barnes and Noble will open a new location in Walnut Creek next month. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

Now the new store’s staff will decide the interior arrangement and curate the selection of books themselves, giving the shop a more local flavor and operating in a way that’s more akin to an independent storefront than a faceless revenue machine.

“In short, any one Barnes & Noble is increasingly different (from) another, each with their own personality that reflects the community in which they are situated,” a company spokesperson said in response to email questions.

Whether the mission is successful remains to be seen, but the outcome could play a major role in the future of in-person bookselling, according a longtime publishing industry veteran.

“When Borders went out of business, that was nearly 400 stores that went out,” said Kent Watson, the executive director of the Berkeley-based Small Press Distribution. “The last thing that the industry needs is any large chain going out… we need the entire ecosystem.”

The retail industry as a whole is trying to determine its future after COVID-19 gave people every reason to shop from their homes the past two years.

CONCORD, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 26: Madison Long, 7, of Vallejo, places books on a table in the kids section at Barnes and Noble in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. Barnes and Noble will open a new location in Walnut Creek next month. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
CONCORD, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 26: Madison Long, 7, of Vallejo, places books on a table in the kids section at Barnes and Noble in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. Barnes and Noble will open a new location in Walnut Creek next month. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

“I have the Kindle app, which is very much a convenience thing,” said Concord resident Nicole Calegari of Amazon’s e-book alternative to physical books, as she browsed the shelves in the Concord B&N. “But there are some books that I want to have in person, so I can read (them) over and over again, and mark them up and highlight them.”

Calegari, who frequented the Walnut Creek store before it closed, found herself reading more during the pandemic after the endless stream of television shows lost their luster. Book sales skyrocketed in COVID’s early months and remained much higher than in previous years for much of 2021, according to data from the American Booksellers Association.

But some bookstores did not benefit from a suddenly remote customer base. Flashlight Books in downtown Walnut Creek — located a stone’s throw from Barnes & Noble’s new location — found itself without its bread-and-butter strategy of community programs and speaking events to bring in revenue.

“We no longer had people walking around and discovering us, so it was tough to get our name out there,” said Shoshana Smith, who co-owns the independent shop with two friends after years of working for other bookstores.

WALNUT CREEK, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 1: Flashlight Books co-owner Shoshana Smith stocks the shelves with books while at Flashlight Books in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
WALNUT CREEK, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 1: Flashlight Books co-owner Shoshana Smith stocks the shelves with books while at Flashlight Books in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

The store, named for the image of a child wielding a flashlight to read for hours into the night under the bedsheet covers, is small in size but thoroughly curated, with a set of shelves dedicated exclusively to local Bay Area authors.

Is that enough to overcome a new Barnes & Noble around the corner?

“Obviously, having one right down the street from us is going to be a new challenge,” Smith said. “We appreciate that they’re going to have a much larger selection than we do — they have the space and money. But the way we see it, smaller stores will always be here for curation.”



Source link

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: