Barnes & Noble Rebooted
Updated: Feb 12, 2019
Barnes & Noble is an iconic bookstore to many of us, with the dark wood paneling, beige wallpaper adorned with vine patterns, deep green accents, artwork of blown-up covers from classic novels, and seemingly endless shelves of books that were enough to let them dominate the market in the pre-Amazon days.
But they've struggled to keep up in recent years, so the latest thing they're trying is a redesign of their stores. Barnes & Noble CEO Demos Parneros said, “We are excited to announce that later this year we will open five new prototype stores that feature a smaller format and new design. This right sized format will have a new look and merchandise focused on books and other categories that are more reflective of today’s business model.”
The first prototype store opened in Hackensack, NJ, which is a location I assume they chose because Bergen County, NJ is among the top retail sales of the entire country. Paramus, NJ--about a three minute drive, northwest and where the Amazon Books opened--is often ranked as #1 for retail sales in America. They also opened it at the height of the holiday shopping season.
I had gone to the Barnes & Noble that used to be in this area plenty of times, and I drafted pages of The Bookstore Hobos sitting among the shelves. It was a huge two-floor store with an outside entrance facing the highway as well as an entrance in the mall. The first floor had a big eReader display, gift-y merchandise, board games, certain book categories, magazines, and a big café. Up the escalators to the second floor, there were a ton more books, a sizable children's section, additional seating, and a huge music/movies section behind all of that. They've now shut down this whole store and it's currently empty.
The new prototype store is nearby and in the same mall, but it is much, much smaller. I'd say less than half the size of the store it replaced. While the original Barnes & Noble bookstores tried to evoke the feeling of an ornate, fancy library, the new store goes for a bright, minimalist aesthetic. Dark wood paneling has been replaced with white marble. The long, white marble counter is the most noticeable thing about the café. Tall bookshelves you could lose yourself in have been changed to short shelves and luminous lighting. I don't love the industrial look of the open ceiling, but the way the lights form a grid on the ceiling is interesting and makes the store very bright. The store is still set up to have a mall entrance plus an additional outside entrance like a department store, although this location no longer faces the highway.
They highlight this circular display at the front, which seems to help open up the store and draw you into the other areas.
I would have thought comfortable seating might be the first thing to go in a redesign, and I have noticed certain B&N's cut back on seating aside from at the cafés over the years. However, they did maintain some comfortable chairs right in the middle of the store. They also highlight a children's area that looks inviting to sit and play with red foam mats serving as the floor.
Is there anything missing in the new version of Barnes & Noble? I think they cut music and the other electronics that were in that large section. The number of people purchasing CDs has to be minuscule, so this makes sense. Nevertheless, they still had a board game section, journals, and "Gifts for Readers."
Regarding the books, every section you would expect to find seemed represented. Obviously it is significantly smaller, which means they're not going to carry as many titles.
During the rise of Barnes & Noble, they made these massive stores to cram them full of as many books as possible so that if a customer wanted a book, there was a good chance they could find it at Barnes & Noble.
But now that almost any book can be ordered online, their selection of books is never going to compete. This new version of the store accepts that reality and aims to target the customers with a curated selection.
"There’s a lot of us in here—bookstore hobos. We don’t use the store like we’re supposed to—we free the books, steal the words with our eyes, repurpose the space for our own ends—A/C in summer, warmth in the winter, comfortable seats, a pitcher of water at the café counter—the giant corporation spends money on all these things in hopes that busy customers won’t have the time to stay too long and read the stack of books they’ve acquired, so they’ll just buy them on their way out—but we hobos are only busy with reading. We can stay all day." - from The Bookstore Hobos by Joseph Patrick Pascale. If you’re a fan of bookstores, don’t miss this novella, which is available to read for free courtesy the Eunoia Review.
Barnes & Noble carries my comic literary novel How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss is Trying to Kill You on their website.