After 15 years, Barnes & Noble has decided to close its only retail location in the Bronx due to rising rent costs. After the store closes at the end of December, there will be no national, full-service bookstore in the entire borough. The Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation is both offering incentives to encourage the store to remain open and searching for a large bookstore to replace it. While the loss of this neighborhood icon is a painful blow, alternative booksellers can provide the range of reading materials that customers seek and fill an important community role — albeit not in a single place.
Given the increasing accessibility of books enabled by Amazon, the closing of branches of large bookstore chains hardly comes as a shock. For readers looking for a specific book, Amazon offers a solution. Considering the website’s wide selection and quick delivery speed, national booksellers are having to fight for business. Despite the benefits of Amazon, Barnes & Noble still has an advantage in that it provides a space for customers to explore.
Bronx residents have rightfully argued that the Barnes & Noble was a critical component of their community, serving as a cultural center where people could gather. While providing cohesion for the community, the physical existence of a bookstore also exposes customers to books they may not have initially been interested in. Local booksellers are an excellent alternative. While most shops offer a more limited selection, they can still provide a comfortable atmosphere to peruse and congregate.
Although local stores are disadvantaged in terms of space and money, support from residents can change this. The fact that one community is critical to the success of small retailers further differentiates them from large booksellers, which have no real obligation to provide resources to underserved neighborhoods. For exampling, when struggling to maintain profits and keep up with rent, the owners of St. Mark’s Bookshop — recognizing their importance to the community — chose to relocate to a smaller space while remaining in the East Village.
Barnes & Noble is facing fierce competition from other national and international sellers, and its only obligations are to its stockholders. Although for a time chain stores offered a wider selection of books for readers, the shift to online shopping has led to the closure of many local branches. The Bronx has made substantial economic advances in recent years, and the loss of an important national bookseller does not signify a greater decline. In light of this unfortunate loss, Bronx readers should turn to local shops when they can for literature and community space and keep in mind that their support can help strengthen community.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 23 print issue. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]