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Barnes & Noble's Departure: It's Not Personal

Big box stores need to do a big business in order to sign a big lease.

I am a writer. So, naturally, I am a reader.

I taught myself to read and devoured Ramona the Pest and the Little House books before kindergarten was over. My husband is impressed that if I like a book, I can plow through 500 pages in a weekend.

Like many people in Reston, I could spend many a day at Barnes & Noble and the late Books-A-Million browsing, flipping, reading and buying.

But lately? Not so much. I don't think I have made more than a handful of purchases in the last two years.

Much like music and news, books have become personal. We can pick the music we like and send it right to our phones and iPods. An entire library can be stored on an iPad. All you have to do is hit a search button and the name of that book that you heard about on NPR but were driving and couldn't write down the author's name comes right to you. One more click, and the book can come right to you, too. Heck, Siri could probably tell you what you are looking for.

Over the last few years, I have acquired a Nook (Barnes & Noble's e-reader) and an Amazon Prime subscription. The e-reader is great for impulse purchases. Search, click and read, even at 11 p.m. on a Saturday. Amazon is great for gift-sending to out-of-town relatives and bulk purchases. My son needed about eight novels for his 11th grade English class. Search and click — and Amazon could tell what else I needed based on the searches of others, no doubt parents of other FCPS students. The books arrived on my doorstep 24 hours later.

I suspect these tools have been life changing — or at least shopping changing — for many other people as well.

Yes, many still love the feel of a book in their hands, browsing pages, lovingly storing hardbacks on a shelf. Some people also no doubt loved the crackle an album made when you dropped the needle onto the turntable, the whir of a VCR tape rewinding or a trip to the video store to stock up for a snow day.

Sadly, bookstores might soon go the way of the video store and the record player.

Borders is no more, Books-a-Million has scaled back and among other places nationwide — though they reconsidered in one market where they had just one store in a 100-mile radius or so.

What we have to remember is this: It's not personal; it's business. (That's also the motto of Tom Hanks' character, Joe Fox, when he tells children's book store owner Meg Ryan to fight for her store in the movie You've Got Mail. Very current for a 15-year-old movie, no?)

I don't know exactly what was in the lease that Lerner Enterprises wanted the Barnes & Noble to sign, but I do know the store says it wanted to come to terms. But are any bookstores thinking longterm these days? Retail leases are generally for 10 years or more. Can a bookstore look that far into the future when the future is financially shaky?

The building up, up, up like so much of Reston with more housing, retail and office space. Could they commit to sticking around through that when no one knows what the bottom line is going to be?

Restonians have generally greeted the Barnes & Noble news with disappointment. There is an online petition, as well as a elementary school student's petition asking the company to reconsider — or at least think of a new location.

Readers of Patch have chimed in with their thoughts on the site and on Reston Patch's Facebook page bemoaning the death of reading — or at least the death of browsing.

"I have spent many a rainy day there drinking coffee and looking at books," said one reader. "I take my preschooler to play with the trains. Where are we supposed to go when it is snowing or too cold?" says another.

Remember, it is business. Browsing with a latte is not a business plan. If everyone who was there to kill time (myself included) would have left with an armful of books (that they could have gotten cheaper online) or the toys and gifts the store sold (to improve its bottom line), bookstores like Barnes & Noble may be more confident in the future.

The Container Store lease is a done deal, but I wish activists the best in inspiring change. It can work. Read this recent Atlantic Monthly story about novelist Ann Patchett, who, after the Borders and another big bookstore closed in her town of Nashville, opened Parnassus Books — an independent bookstore (even though she knows it is a risky venture and startup costs were $300,000).

Patchett's store reminds me that perhaps — and it is a big perhaps — the big boxes leaving mean it may be time for independent stores to fill the need people still have for browsing, flipping, reading and latte drinking.

So, anyone have $300,000 to spare?

Chipperson December 12, 2012 at 11:34 AM
Karen - a well written and realistic attitude about this. Thank you for getting this out there and hopefully calming people down.
Karen Cleveland December 12, 2012 at 11:43 AM
Well said Karen. Thanks for the perspective. Karen C.
JAK December 12, 2012 at 12:02 PM
To the contrary, I don't feel that people should be "Calm" when such translates towards complicity of something they are against. Only through grass-roots initiatives will we keep and maintain a Reston of our, the peoples', desire. After all, we are the residents here, and we deserve a say in what goes on. Sometimes business realities do represent an overall at-large truth, that cannot be denied, but that is certainly not always the case, and it is up to localities to found, strengthen, and maintain their standing so as to keep and sustain such cherished establishments. As per the local small-business perspective, we used to have a great bookstore at North Point Village Center, complete with a fireplace. I believe one of the greatest ideas would be to see a local resident takeover an entire shopping center. When you can better control rent and upkeep at the local level, only then can you bypass the ludicrous red-tape currently present in order to draw in smaller mom & pop shops. The chains will always prevail when an enormous entity controls the rent, and they will also retain the ability to disappear at a whim despite a substantial customer base around here. In the meantime, by all means see if Barnes & Noble will be willing to stay elsewhere within our community. We have enough vacancies at the individual village center level, and the bookstore would represent a great boost to these satellite locales.
Chipperson December 12, 2012 at 12:49 PM
JAK - what you didn't take from the article though is that this decision by BN was based on a business decision - and until UNICEF gets into the bookstore business you can't do anything but be calm.
Diane Blust December 12, 2012 at 01:02 PM
We don't need one person with $300K to start a locally owned bookstore, we just need one or two people willing to raise capital within the community. Check out Michael Shuman's latest book: "Local Dollars, Local Sense".
Maggie December 12, 2012 at 02:59 PM
When you talk about "the people's" desire, I think you assume the people in general want what your group of friends want. Every single person I have talked to about the Container Store coming to Reston has said "oh that kind of sad, but yay for Container Store!" We are moms with kids, living in townhouses with no garages and we need storage solutions. Container Store is heaven for us. We also, as children of the 70's, do most of our reading on devices. I still buy some books, but I can leave Reston to do it.
Buck December 12, 2012 at 03:03 PM
seems like the world you live in is a very special place
Karen Goff December 12, 2012 at 03:05 PM
With all due respect "a local resident taking over a whole shipping center" is completely unfeasible. And even if it were, he would still have to run that shopping center as a business - meaning negotiating leases with viable businesses that can pay the rent. So it might not be your dream lineup of cozy bookstores and mom and pop bakeries. You might get a whole shopping center of dry cleaners, mailbox etc's and 7-Elevens.
Laura Shumway December 12, 2012 at 03:26 PM
The used book store at Lake Anne continues to be a wonderful place to browse and share books in a perfect small town, independent store atmosphere.
Fran Lovaas December 12, 2012 at 05:08 PM
We only have Mom and Pop's at Lake Anne. We love our restaurants, used bookstore, children's consignment shop, pharmacy, health food store, wine shop, chocolate shop, flower shop, coffee shops,etc. Shopping at locally owned stores means more money stays in the community. We would all be wiser to shop at locally owned stores and support our unique Reston community. I hate the idea of Barnes and Noble closing also and don't feel I need another Container Store close by. But I strongly feel we need to support our own LOCALLY owned businesses and cut out as many corporate ones as possible, especially when they pay minimum wage and hire contract workers so they don't have to pay benefits.
Tom Grigsby December 12, 2012 at 08:30 PM
I don't suppose B&N would be interested in the vacant grocery site at Tall Oaks?
Karen Goff December 12, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Unfortunately, I don't think ANYONE is interested in any space at Tall Oaks. For sure not B & N. I am just speculating, but the lack of traffic, low visibiltiy and general downmarket feeling with the vacancies probably make it a no- go for many, many companies.
Java Master December 13, 2012 at 04:52 AM
All the pleasant communtarian sentiments aside, whether it's "save the bookstore" or "save the golf course" you still gotta make these things "work", e.g., make a dollar and a dime. If one sees no long term future in your particular niche, alternatives will present themselves. Someone's ox is gonna get gored to be sure, but life isn't fair to begin with, and in the commercial context "fair" doesn't amount to a hill of beans sometimes.
Susan December 13, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Karen, I find it interesting that you used the comparison of record players. Record players have started making a huge comeback (of which I am very pleased) so maybe there's hope that we won't lose bookstores. Although I too own a nook, I still purchase books. There is no comparison for an art book on a hand held device vs. a nice large coffee table book!
Bill Burton December 13, 2012 at 11:15 PM
I'm now told that Lerner offered B&N a 5-year contract and they turned it down. Kinda fits with what Karen was saying.
Linda December 14, 2012 at 03:46 PM
But did B & N turn it down because they wanted a longer one? Or because 5 years was longer than they wanted? That is the question. I enjoy the used bookstore at Lake Anne, but alas, it doesn't compare in anyway to a B & N. I went and visited One More Page books in Falls Church yesterday. 40 minute drive at least. Cute place - saw some books that were "new to my eyes". Since it is small, things catch your eyes a lot more. I will go back if I'm in that area, but it isn't somewhere where I'd be willing to drive that far on a regular basis. I wish the B & N would have closed the store down at the Fair Oaks location and pooled all the resources to keep the one in Reston open instead. Lots of author signings there, bookclubs, story hours - things the other location doesn't have - or only has occasionally I believe.... I know - I'm delusional... but that is the way I feel... I did go to the B & N at Tysons the other day. That will probably become my new "go to" store for the times I want to browse (altho I still prefer the Reston one). For quick in and outs to get a book - it will now have to be the Fair Oaks location.
Java Master December 14, 2012 at 05:02 PM
The Fair Oaks B&N is a larger store, and arguably serves a wider market. So it was an easier decision to close the Reston location if B&N could not get the lease terms they were looking for. I miss Borders a heck of a lot more than B&N, but Borders did themselves in thru a series of ill-advised management decisions and frequent management changes in a fast-changing marketplace. That's life. In my view, the used book store at Lake Anne is a poor substitute for the larger bookstore experience. So stop the anti-corporate ranting, will you please? Reston, your silly commutarian, crunchy granola roots are showing, and they ain't pretty!
Linda December 15, 2012 at 07:14 PM
I really find it hard to believe the Fair Oaks B & N is bigger than the one in Reston. The one in Reston is 25,000 square feet. Can't find the square feet of the Fair Oaks one. I know the magazine section is much smaller and unpleasant to look at magazines in. Especially compared to the Reston one. Usually when I go to the Fair Oaks one, it isn't busy at all (well, the cafe is, but that is about it). Whereas the Reston store is busy all the time - even in the middle of the day....
joe brewer December 16, 2012 at 04:41 PM
I got Sports Illustrated Football's Greatest for 12 dollars less at Costco. The same titles to be had at Wal-Mart up to 50% cheaper. If you are buying from Barnes and Noble you have proved you should not be driving a car or voting because of poor judgments.
Linda December 16, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Joe, This is such a strange comment to be making. I buy books from everywhere - B & N - BJ's (altho their selection is a lot smaller now) - Wal Mart, used bookstores, independent bookstores when I can find them. I use my reader's advantage card and coupons at B & N. I get many many hardbacks that way for at least half the price. I get discounts on the magazines I buy there, cards I buy there. I keep many people employed because of my purchases at B & N - people who will now be out of jobs. Then I visit Starbucks and help keep them employed - altho this location will now be gone along with the B & N and MORE people will be out of jobs. I then donate all the books I buy to the Reston Library. Many go on the shelves for Patrons to utilize - many others go into sales - and therefore that earns money to purchase things for the library. I also check books out of the library. I'm a huge booklover - I like to read books, look at books, touch them, and on and on... It isn't about what price I pay for the book - it is about the pleasure of reading it - discovering new authors while browsing at the brick and mortar stores - of all kinds.... If I don't have a book with me for some odd reason (because I always do) - I will read the back of a cereal box....
Aalliiee Marie December 20, 2012 at 12:35 AM
First off, I would like to say that as long as books exist, I will NEVER use an e-reader. I spend a good 3-4 hours per night staring at a computer screen in order to finish my homework. I don't need to continue staring at screens when I want to read a book. I have my license, but the other Barnes and Noble locations are too far from me, especially with my IB course load and the 20+ hours per week I spend managing basketball. I live in North Reston, near Lake Fairfax. With traffic, the Fair Oaks location is nearly an hour away from me, and although it only takes me about 20 minutes to get to Tyson's, in rush hour that time is easily doubled. Besides, the parking at Tyson's 2 (especially this time of year), is absolutely horrendous. Although I REALLY like the RUBS and it is within walking distance of my house, it obviously doesn't have as wide a selection as Barnes and Noble. I agree with Karen that Amazon is wonderful for assigned reading, however it isn't practical if you just want to browse. A few years ago, when Books-A-Million was my go-to bookstore, I often arrived at Plaza America with $20 to spend on books. I didn't always know what I wanted to get, but I always ended up spending the money after sometimes several hours of browsing. Although my parents often criticized my "impulsive shopping tendencies", I discovered some of my favorite novels and authors just from doing this. Where will we go to do that now? That's something that Amazon just can't offer.
unknownauthor March 04, 2013 at 03:37 AM
I really like to read and do both ebooks and physical books. But sometimes after spending all day on a computer the last thing you want to do is look at a screen. Hope they do not get rid of the Library! That would be a total disaster now that the bookstore is gone. You can get ebooks on the Library website now. But I love going there and just browsing and seeing people. Love thier book sales. Its like going to Town Center sitting next to the fountain. Reston needs more places that encourage community not another store with stuff in it that you can get at 50 other places.
Mike R. May 12, 2013 at 02:40 PM
Unlike the closing of Books A Million, this business decision had nothing to do with the current trends in the book market. The Reston B&N was always packed with customers. It provided a great excuse to visit that part of Reston as it provided a wonderful experience to residents of all ages. If the owner of Spectrum thinks he'll get the same sustained traffic for the Container Store, he's dreaming. He's looking at a short term gain, but he'll realize his mistake when the Container Store goes out of business in a few years. The only thing residents can do is send a message by boycotting the Container Store, and hopefully quicken its demise. Only then will the owner be open to B&N returning. This is what corporate America refuses to acknowledge: the power is with the peolpe/consumers, not the corporations who are trying to fabricate consumers.

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