March 28, 2023

Barnes & Noble has opened this new retailer in Pikesville, Maryland, in its greatest enlargement in years.

Alina Selyukh/NPR

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Alina Selyukh/NPR

Barnes & Noble has opened this new retailer in Pikesville, Maryland, in its greatest enlargement in years.

Alina Selyukh/NPR

The ghost of Barnes & Noble’s previous meets the spirit of Barnes & Noble’s future on the solely mall in suburban Baltimore.

The brand new retailer in Pikesville, Maryland, separated from its closed predecessor by half a car parking zone, is a part of unlikely plot twist: Barnes & Noble is planning its greatest enlargement in over a decade.

After years on the point of extinction, the e-book chain plans to open about 30 new shops this yr. Many are returning the retailer to areas they beforehand left. In some instances, Barnes & Noble is even buying former Amazon bookstores.

The retailer hopes this can open a brand new web page. Barnes & Noble’s gross sales are on the rise and are up greater than 4% final yr, in keeping with Shannon DeVito, director of books.

“What has modified is, I believe, my hope that we are going to be right here for many years and a long time and a long time,” she says.

Greatest change borrowed from unbiased bookstores

The collapse of Barnes & Noble got here within the 2010s: the archetypal massive villain busting unbiased bookstores ultimately grew to become Amazon’s lunch. His on-line retailer was lagging behind, whereas bodily shops had been overflowing with devices, blankets and knick-knacks in pursuit of any sale.

In 2019, Barnes & Noble was purchased out by a hedge fund. usually harmful growth. However that buyout led to a brand new CEO, James Daunt, who seemingly miraculously took over the UK’s largest chain of bookstores, Waterstones.

Daunt insisted that Barnes & Noble shops “weed out the trash” from their cabinets. The retailer took benefit of BookTok’s TikTok and social media influencers, and adjusted its offers with publishers. (The community stopped accepting funds from publishers for specialty show instances. It was fast cash, nevertheless it usually ran the chance of burdening prime spots with unpopular books and incurring a sequence of bills for the shop.)

The largest change comes from unbiased bookstores: Daunt gave native Barnes & Noble shops rather more authority to order what they want. their readers, in their I need to see the world.

“Actually, it is a enormous shift in philosophy for us as booksellers,” says DeVito.

“This isn’t an algorithm. It isn’t one thing that’s dynamically extracted from the code,” she says. “It’s totally… I learn it, I beloved it, I do know the world actually gravitates in direction of beekeeping books, so I will create the very best beekeeping exhibit I can as a result of that is my native retailer.”

The community took benefit of an unusually good second

Shortly after Daunt took over the corporate, Barnes & Noble was closed because of the pandemic, adopted by furloughs and layoffs. However the firm additionally used the time to refurbish shops and recalibrate the enterprise. Retailer bankruptcies have additionally made area cheaper for brand spanking new shops.

Then 2021 set a document for U.S. e-book gross sales, which means the revamped Barnes & Noble launched simply when folks had been shopping for extra books than ever.

“We summited Everest in 2021, the best level within the e-book market,” mentioned Kristen McLean, chief govt of NPD BookScan. “And Barnes & Noble was within the good place to capitalize on that as a result of they had been that contemporary vitality…and shoppers had been very excited to be again in bookstores.”

The chain continued to shut some shops, even opening new ones. In northern Virginia, Barnes & Noble will quickly open its largest 28,000-square-foot retailer in years in a former Workplace Depot workplace. The brand new bookstore in Pikesville has a smaller city format and is housed in a former Pier 1 retailer.

Retailer transformation underneath scrutiny from buyers

The brand new shops are getting an nearly full makeover: brighter paint, lighter wooden, new layouts. The bookshelves usually are not organized in rows of stacks in alphabetical order, however in themed nooks designed to encourage buyers to linger, browse and maybe discover one thing they did not know they wished.

Pals Kendra Wallace and Adriana Pitts-Wright went to the shop in Pikesville in search of new gadgets. ebony {a magazine} that this Barnes & Noble did not have.

“The appear and feel is distinctly completely different from the standard Barnes & Noble—I seen that,” mentioned Pitts-Wright. “However on the similar time, it doesn’t really feel genuine. They’re attempting to convey the texture of a extra intimate, unbiased bookstore when it is nonetheless simply Barnes & Noble.”

Nonetheless, Wallace left the shop with a purchasing bag. Inside had been the novels she adopted on social media that had been on her checklist: Seven days in June Tia Williams and tender flesh Agustin Bazterrica.

“Ought to I’ve purchased extra books for my assortment? Most likely not,” Wallace mentioned and laughed. “I’m a reader.”

Barnes & Noble could not have offered their new id to mates, however they’ve offered just a few books to them.

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