About nine months ago, our local Borders bookstore was one of the first locations of the company to close during their attempt to restructure after filing for bankruptcy protection. Another business finally took over the building a few weeks ago, an enormous discount liquor store. The only remaining “big box” bookseller in the area, Barnes & Noble, is a bit more of a hike for us, but still not too bad of a drive. We visited that store last weekend.
We hadn’t been in a bookstore since shortly after our Borders store started their liquidation process, so we were a little shocked at what we found at Barnes & Noble: a decided lack of books.
Our closest Barnes & Noble is one of the huge, two-story “anchor” stores at a large mall, and I would estimate that books only occupy roughly one-third of the available floor space. On the lower level, the area just inside the front door had several racks of severely discounted hardbacks but then you had to travel clear to the other side of the vast space before you stumbled over another book. Around the cash registers, bookmarks, stickers, key chains, and other small trinkets filled numerous carousels. An entire section of the first floor was dedicated to greeting cards, with at least half a dozen rows of displays.
Blank books—diaries, journals, day planners—took up a significant amount of room, as did calendars and coffee mugs. The café area took up a great deal of space, as did a huge area dedicated to board games and other toys.
Barnes & Noble is in the process of rolling out 3,000-square-foot “playroom boutiques” at select locations, which will expand the toys and games area even further. A full quarter of the floor space displayed music CDs and video games.
The second floor of the store wasn’t any different. The newsstand area took up an enormous amount of space, as did an area dedicated to the Nook device. Where there were actual bookshelves with physical books, the shelves were so widely spaced that you could drive a tank between them, where before you could barely squeeze by without bumping butts with a fellow shopper.
I think the writing is on the virtual wall. While bound paper books may be around in mass quantities for a while longer, I think the physical books mostly consist of used books already in circulation, coffee-table art books, and collector editions with special bindings like Barnes & Noble’s beautiful, leather-bound “BG Classic Editions.”
I’ve embraced the concept of ebooks. Waterproof cases for ebook devices rendered my previous argument in favor of paper books moot (my favorite time and place to read is in a steaming hot bath). It won’t hurt my feelings not to have to dust shelf after shelf of books, or pack them if we should ever decide to move house again. I won’t miss having to make hard decisions as to which old books to get rid of in order to make room for new ones.
What I will miss is the bookstore experience of leisurely browsing the stacks, grabbing a volume, and curling up in an easy chair in a quiet corner of the store to read a few chapters before buying. I’ve noticed that the library decorum of speaking in whispers that used to exist in bookstores has vanished along with the books.
It’s an exciting time for the rapidly changing publishing industry, and I’m glad I’m part of it, but I have to admit to a certain degree of wistful nostalgia for the good old days. But then, I still miss vinyl record albums. 🙂