Lamenting the Loss of Bookstore Behemoth Barnes & Noble

Who Needs More Cheap Clothes and Huge Crowds? Books Beat Bargain Rags Any Day


Published: September 22, 2010

Two weeks ago someone told me Barnes & Noble on West 66th St. was closing because it could no longer afford to pay its lease. I couldn’t believe it. In a city as so-called intellectual as New York, they would not, could not, let such a mecca of knowledge go to waste. Or could they? For what is replacing my favorite store but Century 21, which up until about two weeks ago I thought was a real estate agency. After some high-tech googling, I discovered the truth: it is a discount designer fashion store. I’m not even sure what that means, but I know it can’t be good. Clothes shmlothes, people! What this world needs is more books!

I love Barnes & Noble. It’s big and it’s chock-full of the latest bestsellers, as well as the classics. I know Barnes & Noble made the book world more accessible to me, and I’m sure it did the same thing for plenty of others. You didn’t need to be a book connoisseur to walk through its aisles. You could peruse its shelves for hours with no one hovering over you, and while you were at it, you could listen to some CDs for free, and then you could grab a cup of coffee from the in-store café. Is that so bad?

Even if reading isn’t your thing, Barnes & Noble has other things to offer. For instance, it’s never been short on big-name guests. This fall they are having Patti LuPone and former President Jimmy Carter visit. Unlike other events in the city, these events are kept small and under the radar, so even if you have to show up two hours prior, at least you get to wait inside (as opposed to sleep all night on the sidewalk; ahem, SNL, ahem) and then you’re pretty much assured a spot (on a nice seat in a small room so that you can actually see and hear the guest).

What does Century 21 have to offer the Upper West Side? According to its website, it will provide us with “fashion worth fighting for” and an “epic score you’ll brag about forever.” Yay, more trendy clothes that will go out of style before you can say “Anna Wintour” and that will most likely fall apart within the hour. Doesn’t New York have enough clothing stores?

Herald Square has Macy’s and the Upper East Side has Bloomingdale’s. Are we to have Century 21, a clothing store mobbed with people itching to push you over in an effort to get the lowest-priced sweater? Doesn’t Broadway have enough stores to satisfy a fashionista’s hunger? We’ve already got The Gap, Zara, Banana Republic and plenty of other clothing stores at our service. We only have one good bookstore. Yes, I will admit that the Borders is around the corner in the Time Warner building, but it is only one floor, and frankly, it simply isn’t the same. The selection isn’t as good, and Time Warner at Columbus Circle is hardly an ideal location for peace and quiet. Once West 66th St.’s B&N closes, the closest one will be on West 82nd St., and anyone who’s walked these streets in the dead of winter knows that 22 blocks is simply too far.

Since I’m an optimist, I have tried to find a silver lining in the midst of this devastating news. Perhaps because Barnes & Noble is saying good-bye, privately-owned bookstores will start popping up again. The little guy might have a chance once more. Of course, these stores won’t have the extreme selection of Barnes & Noble and they probably won’t be four stories either. Let’s just hope they serve good coffee.