Barnes & Noble opened the doors of its newest “flagship” store on 86th Street and Lexington Avenue today, and Kindle-devotees across the five boroughs trembled. Defiantly ignoring the publishing industry’s current dim state, Barnes & Noble has built a store that is gargantuan (55,000 square feet!) in a distinctly suburban sense.
Upper East Siders young and old poured in during lunchtime, admiring the brightly lit, sparkling digs. Barnes & Noble’s signature soundtrack of tranquilizing jazz wafted down the rows of books, interrupted occasionally by the soothing woman’s voice that directed shoppers—a la Whole Foods—to the appropriate cashier.
The store’s space-age sensibilities seemed to confuse some customers—“But I don’t want to go to the museum!” wailed a toddler, to which her mother replied, “This isn’t the museum, it’s the bookstore!”
Other shoppers noted that the store seemed to be experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. “It’s like one of those outdoor malls,” observed 14-year-old Richard Carter. “It looks like Connecticut.” Indeed, 86th and Lexington is looking ever more like Short Hills, with a massive H&M and two Starbucks occupying space on the same block.
Yet no one was complaining.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful store,” gushed Erica Pierce, 53, a self-proclaimed “Barnes & Noble groupie.” When asked if the store felt too big or out of place, Ms. Pierce, who described the book chain as a “haven,” replied, “New York City is the greatest store in the world. Why shouldn’t we have a mega bookstore?”
The store’s manager, Amy Fitzgerald, clad in the classic Upper East Side style—white linen suit and Chanel flats—sounded unsurprisingly delighted. “Industry-wise,” she admitted, “there’s a lot of news [about the effects of the economy], but company-wise we’re doing great. People are reading and buying.” Despite Amazon’s booming business, Ms. Fitzgerald’s statement may hold true: Although the company laid off one hundred employees from its New York City headquarters in January, Reuters recently reported that Barnes & Noble had a a less significant quarterly loss than anticipated and increased its full-year outlook.
Ms. Fitzgerald also noted that managers are working closely with some of the “major publishing houses” on events; upcoming readings will feature Joy Behar, Lewis Black and Emeril Lagasse.
Ms. Fitzgerald also told The Observer that groups of publishers gave “great feedback” when they surveyed the store early on its debut morning—a bow in timing to the industry’s traditional summertime Friday afternoon exodus.
Although the store was crowded, the check-out line was short. People were seated at kiddie-size chairs and tables, where they did more reading than buying. One customer expressed his doubt that the store will bring better and much bigger things to the book business. “It’ll look empty in a week,” he muttered to his friend, “it’s too big!”