Home Celebrity Barnes & Noble Closing Greenwich Village Store, Their Destruction of Book Biz...

A sign has gone up in the window of the Barnes & Noble on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Eighth St: they are closing on December 31st. In the mid 1980s, Barnes & Noble swallowed up Marboro Books, Bookmasters and B Dalton, among other booksellers. They killed off small booksellers all over the country, eventually destroying business for many beloved New York landmarks like Colosseum, Books & Co., Gotham, Doubleday, and many others. St. Marks Bookstore, in its reduced form, is rumored to be downsizing and moving again.

B&N wanted to rule the world. They took over the B Dalton store at what used to be the gateway of Greenwich Village, but also added a behemoth store at 21st and Sixth (now gone), Lincoln Center (now gone), and downsized the famous main store at Fifth Avenue and 18th st. On upper Fifth Avenue, they ravaged Scribner Books, the best bookstore in New York, which became Rizzoli and is now a Benetton or some clothier.

Now B&N is in such reduced circumstances that they’ve slinked (slunk?) down Fifth Avenue from their original spot near 48th St. to something far less glamorous on the east side of the street near 45th.

I was working at the B&N outpost on Third Avenue and 59th St. in 1979 when the destruction began. I was in college, and had been reassigned from Marboro on West Eighth St. when B&N bought that chain and killed it. You could see the future: at that moment, truck drivers and maintenance people had been promoted to store managers by the hippie HR guy who thought it was all very funny. No one knew anything about books. No one cared. A customer once walked into our store and asked for “books by Singer”– meaning Isaac Bashevis Singer. He was directed by our night manager to the Singer sewing store on 57th and Third.

Among the stores B&N helped coax into oblviion  was the legendary Wilentz Books on Eighth St. just a half block east of the red brick former Dalton edifice. For a while, Shakespeare & Co. has barely held on, on lower Broadway. Somehow, Three Lives Books–with different owners than the ones I knew–has clung to life in the West Village. But they are very small and off the beaten track. Otherwise, B&N has managed to wreck what used to be a thriving book life in Greenwich Village.

And now, come January 1st, there will be no book store in our neighborhood, known the world over as home to legendary writers from Mark Twain and Dawn Powell to Edna St. Vincent Millay. Congratulations to the Riggios. You ushered out an entire culture and it only took 30 years. Everything will be downloaded onto a Nook. The smell of books, the feel of them, the communal experience of choosing books from piles and stacks, has been decimated. Good work! (I can’t hold amazon accountable for this–they didn’t start with brick and mortar stores.)

I will never forget Ralphie, the manager of the Third Avenue store, who told the staff one night that if his rules were too “astringent” we could leave. There was also a sign on the freight door from the inside that read: “This door is alarmed.” So was I. And now, more than ever.

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Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
20 replies to this post
  1. Roger, the past is the past. It’s time move on. I just can’t picture a world without a bookstore in it! It sounds like you can’t either, under that bitter facade. Truly sad :(
    Try not to be so bitter, try to think more Zen, but more importantly, try to support the true fight of a bigger enemy than the past…


    Just my opinion.

  2. I’m not sure what the gripe here is. Barnes and Noble is somehow a bad guy for bringing books to people at affordable prices for 30+ years? Yes, how unfair of them to “screw” indie bookstores selling books at msrp. You act like they snuck over their in the night and destroyed property or something. They put forth a product that the majority of Americans viewed as better, and they won based on clean competition. Clearly YOU don’t believe this, but YOU don’t get to unilaterally make this decision. Nobody stopped you and everyone else from shopping at indie bookshops and keeping them in business. But Barnes and Nobles allowed (and STILL allow) people to get their books for cheaper. It’s just that now the market is moving towards digital media.

    This move that you’re seeing would be EASIER if the competition was high priced indie shops instead of a large chain, because prices would be even higher. Just because you’re nostalgic for small bookshops doesn’t mean your vision is unequivocally “better”; in most discernible ways, it’s worse. You seemingly place a high premium on what old paper smells like. I don’t care, most others don’t either. I also have about half the wallspace in a large room in my house dedicated to storing books, and I’m not even 30 years old yet. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford that kind of storage space if I were to continue purchasing books at a steady rate, I’ve happily switched to digital.

    I’m quite happy to say that I can’t remember the last time I had to pay msrp for a book. And that’s because of Amazon.com, Borders when it was around, and yes, Barnes and Noble. I too am sad to see the GW branch go, it was a great place to waste an hour between leaving work and meeting friends in the Village. But I don’t view it’s demise as some kind of payback for their “sinister” actions in the 80s. I view it as the natural progression of the world we live in. I’m sorry that you’d rather live in the 70s, but I want to live in the 21st century.

  3. You say that you’re sorry that the B&N is closing, but I have to say the main sentiment in your article is satisfied righteousness. You talk about karma, but even if the “evil” Riggios had never taken over any other store, bookstores would still be closing. It’s unfortunately the price of progress. We live in a media driven society, brick and mortar stores are in danger, and yet you blame them rather than the online multi-billion dollar corporations that are taking everyone’s business. Barnes & Noble isn’t perfect, but people don’t deserve to lose their jobs because the company they worked for expanded aggressively in the past. I know, I know….you didn’t say they did. But it’s there in the attitude of the article. As is the idea that B&N hires idiots who know nothing. Just because you worked with a couple of yokels back in the 80’s doesn’t mean that we’re all illiterate. Again, you never said that….but unfortunately we are smart enough to read between the lines.

  4. Roger you are a sad sad individual. Be thankful this is America where you can speak your mind, however near sighted that it may be. Find another hobby because it appears you have nothing better to do then make all of us who work for B&N and care about our people and books feel like garbage.

  5. Well, I admire your loyalty to B&N. But those of us who worked in independent book stores when B&N arrived and demolished everything know it was quite different. I think your perspective is more current, and you’re not exactly versed in the history of what they did. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

  6. My store is closing because of a rent hike, pure and simple. A HUGE rent hike. Anything said beyond that is purely political.

    As far as the last question, will I defend BN? YES!

    I transferred out here January 2002, no questions asked. The company placed me in a store, I came out of the closet and found myself here in NYC.

  7. Ugg…. I have been with B&N for 20 years, and it still bugs me how everyone assumes that it was BN’s fault that indie bookstores failed. As a poster wrote above “the customers choose where they shop”. I have seen BN’s fail miserably when they’ve gone into certain neighborhoods with a great indie (for example our store in Brooklyn, MA died a slow painful death while the indie continued to thrive) bookstore. As for the NYC stores, do you know how much the cost for renting out a location is? That landlords were the ones pushing for more money (and in the case of the Greenwich location, it was BN who was willing to pay more, but the company who wanted the space was willing to pay a lot more). It was a similar situation with the 6th & 21st location. I’m sure you’ve noticed that only half of the space BN had is occupied. Look, is BN perfect? No, but neither are the independent bookstores around the country. People shop where they will get the best deal; for a while it was us, now it is more likely to be either amazon or they are going digital. Get over the blaming BN for the end of the book world already.

  8. You don’t seem to be sorry that’s it closing. In fact, you seem to be reveling in being right about the big, bad bookstore. There are people involved. Some will be out of a job, if they aren’t lucky enough to find another in this job market. And even if they do find another job, will they love it as much as this one? Because most of us in the book selling business do it because we love it. We love that moment of finding the book someone is looking for. We love suggesting that perfect book for someone who claims they hate reading. We love the smell and the feel and the bustle of the bookstore. For all its faults, no other retail job can really compare.

    Then there are the customers, those regulars who show up every single day. Sure, they come for the books, but there’s more to it. They come for the people that work there. They come for the atmosphere created in their particular store. They obviously don’t see their B&N as evil. It’s simply a place to go for their favorite author. It’s a place to take their kids for that perfect tale. Sure, they’ll move on, just as the booksellers will. They’ll find another store, but each is different and with a different personality. It won’t be the same.

    You talk about big, bad, evil Barnes & Noble, labeling them as all that is bad with the book business. However, you say nothing of Amazon and their true predatory practices. Those of us in the book world, whether big box or independent, are in a fight for our lives. Instead of pointing fingers for past transgressions, we need to work together to ensure that bookstores remain a part of our communities. They are wonderful, magical places and to lose just one is very sad.

  9. I think you misunderstand. I will MISS your store tremendously. I’m very sorry it’s closing. But it’s B&N’s bad karma if you know their history. And we should all be angry that they’re closing your store. Are you defending B&N even as they shut you down?

  10. I am the ASM of the store and I want to thank you for making me feel like shit.

    My little store on the corner of 6th ave and 8th St was a special place. It was an old strange place with nook and crannies that we tried to fill with honor.

    For the last six years, we created, what I hope, was a comfortable home.

    I know we are not perfect. but I hope you know we care about books.

    You took the the opportunity to mock the company based on our store closing…….that is sad and not related to reality.

    enjoy the chain drug store. I am sure it will serve your well.

  11. Oh well. I’m not typical, but for decades I wanted to buy books/records late at night, because that’s when I have the most free time and am most active. I would have loved to shop at bookstores, but they were all closed until the next day. When Amazon came along, with the ability to shop at 2 AM, I started using it extensively, and now it’s my first choice.

  12. B&N didn’t destroy those book stores, the consumers did. Consumers were given a choice on every occasion between the distinct business models (or what you would call “cultures”) offered separately by B&N and the indie bookstores. History proves which of the two models the paying customers preferred. The same is now happening between Amazon and B&N brick and mortar, with B&N on the losing end.

    On another note, I’m younger than you are (I was only 9 years old when I was attending P.S.41 just two blocks from the 8th St. B. Dalton), but I remember those stores before they were taken over or shut down. They had their charms, but you know what else I remember? The hostile “This isn’t a library!” attitude that discouraged the only real reason to value a physical book store – a semi-public space to leisurely browse books. B&N superstores changed that by putting in comfortable places to relax and encouraging you to linger.

  13. David, I understand how your bookstore and B&N may now have common cause against online retail, but that does not pardon B&N from their crime of destroying the diversity of bookstores in NYC. DIversity is essential to survival, and I think that had investors not pushed B&N into insane big-box over-expansion, we would have a lot more independent bookstores today even with Amazon ruling supreme. B&N’s problem was not that they were the evil empire, it’s that they tried so hard to be and utterly failed, with nothing to show for their decades of war except the empty hulks of abandoned superstores. At least Amazon still sells books. B&N will soon sell nothing.

  14. To be fair – as the guy who runs that Shakespeare in Lower Manhattan, hearing the B&N close just makes me sad. Yeah, they were predatory, and basically shut down our onetime flagship store on the Upper West Side by opening up a B&N on our doorstep. But now? Even though we’re an indie and they’re capital “C” Corporate, we’re all basically fighting the same fight: will there continue to be bookstores. I think most indie stores have come to see B&N as allies, rather than competitors, before the threat of the suffocating plastic bag over the head of the book biz that is Amazon.com. B&N haven’t been the evil empire in many years.

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