A Day at 'The Evil Empire' otherwise known as B&N

A former boss used to call Barnes and Noble, The Evil Empire, and meant it. I remember B&N before it became B&N, when it was a fantastic outlet for remainders and other books, a real bookstore–not  oh so full of itself, with author illustrated shopping bags, prepaid shelving for certain books, and a coffee shop with overpriced lemon squares. This B&N was a friendly bookstore, and there was but one, down near 14th in Manhattan. 

Then a shift occurred. Only later did I realize it had been sold, to people my former boss also believed were not legit businessmen-which he nor any one else had proof  of, but rumors did abound. Like the record industry, or the garbage collectors, the inference was this new acquisition was strictly for cleaning dirty laundry, as it were. And at first, their total lack of interest in regard to customers, did seem odd. In New York, several locations popped up, in all areas, slowly but surely wiping out any independent store within a mile radius. The prices were slashed, they had seats for people to relax, women could breast feed in public, generally speaking, it was more of a hangout, than a store. At least that was my impression. No one ever bothered to help a customer–there weren’t people on the floor, and if you did locate someone, they hadn’t a clue unless they were in that section or could look up whatever it was you wanted. Later the computers aided a great deal in continuing the absence of booksellers with knowledge–why familiarize yourself with the stock, when you can push a button and it will tell you exactly how many copies of a book you want that they don’t have–oh–but they could ‘order it for you and it would be available in just a couple of days.’ Too bad you wanted it right now, that’s why you entered the store.

This was the feeling in the first years of B&N. And then they started to rule the bookshop universe. And yet, I would enter one and not find many people actually buying anything. And this holds today.

My husband and I chose to sit in B&N the day before the big holiday–the 4th of July because it was madly hot and humid out, we wanted a place to plan our road trip away from dogs and mothers, and because we knew that we could sit in that store until doomsday, and no one would care. And we needed free Wi-Fi.

Now, why is that? Why don’t they care that non customers take up space in their store, doing whatever they want? Why encourage Wi-Fi? How does that earn them money? Any independent bookstore would be hard pressed to have that much space to waste on people who brought their own soda, cupcakes, and books. In fact, I know very few bookshops that encourage lengthy stays–buy a book or move along is their philosophy. And for a small business owned bookshop, it should be. A chain has much more leeway, plus, they know the psychology involved. If you enter the store, you are very likely to leave with something–anything, even if you intended just to use their premises for a cool afternoon meeting. Or, so I surmise–I honestly don’t understand the bookselling practices of a B&N.

We shared our table with a few various individuals. One was  a 60s music buff, or at least that’s what he was reading, no, not skimming or checking out the synopsis on the flap, but actually reading copies of books he pulled from shelves–all day. Where is that sale? There wasn’t one that I could tell.

A woman brought a pile of titles, plopped them down, and began perusing. Again, not idle browsing, but serious ‘I have time to kill and I’m going to read the latest novel’–reading. I realized she was gone when the rare floor bookseller came to the table demanding if the stack of books piled there belonged to any of us. Not only had the vanished woman not bought anything, she left all of her choices behind for the poor grunt worker to put away for her. That worker gave my husband and I the evil eye, after our denials were heard, and started demanding if any of our large stack of Weird books were theirs.

Later a couple of suave men chatted on their cell phones–not to each other, thank goodness, and hung around the area, waiting for some invisible signal they could take off for their brewery of choice. No spines were even cracked by these guys, this was strictly a meet up place to move on to other spots.

And finally, a young kid was engrossed in graphic novels, handling them none too carefully. A sale here? Ha.

And us? We were perusing Roadside America for cool spots to visit, while circling, turning down pages, in our Weird books, and sketching out routes on maps–yes! Here’s two sales for B&N! We bought maps. But only because Triple A was closed when we needed certain ones, ha.

But a true book lover cannot be surrounded by shelf after shelf of lovely bound pages, and not want to peruse–which I had to do, it’s genetic or something. My budget can only allow remainders, so that’s where I headed, and camped out, a little too long–when I returned, the husband informed me he had to fight off other slackers from taking my seat.

In the end, we bought the maps and 2 crime fiction remainders. Did B&N get their money with us? Was an all day stint at their table, using that much space worth those few purchases? I’ve no idea. I didn’t understand the idea of  a ‘library’ bookstore, or ‘ lounge’ bookshop, back then, and still don’t now.

In the end, they got some money from us, and I suppose that they get enough money from people somehow, because they are still around, and still killing off those stores who don’t have coffee shop bookmen walk around like waiters offering samples of their desserts to all day squatters like my husband and myself.

Or—it’s a clever huge tax write-off and money launderer, LOL LOL LOL. Uh–owners of B&N, you know that’s just a joke right?