Photo by Caitlin Abrams
The restaurant at the Barnes and Noble at the Galleria
Barnes & Noble at Galleria features a full-service restaurant.
The future of the bookstore is a lot like the gourmet grilled cheese sandwich on the menu at the new Barnes & Noble Kitchen: comforting, sticky, made with quality ingredients. But also overpriced at $14 (even with tomato soup)—to the point of making one question its relevance.
Barnes & Noble’s pursuit to find its place in our lives today is on full display at its new store at Galleria—one of the first in the country to get a total makeover, complete with concrete floors, a wired community table, and a full-service restaurant offering wine and local craft beer. The goal is to deliver an experience you can’t get on Amazon.com. The hope is that guests will come more frequently and stay longer.
The opportunity to enjoy a beer and brisket burger over a novel is the most obvious (and perhaps exciting) change, but equally striking is what’s missing at this new, smaller store: a lot of the stuff. Toys, bargain racks, stationery—most of the clutter we’ve come to expect front and center at Barnes & Noble is dramatically reduced.
“The handicap of the old stores is it’s harder to celebrate books. Here, I’ve got the middle of the store free and open,” says Barnes & Noble vice president of development David Deason. “We believe it’s important to get back to books as the hero.”
Reading between the lines: Barnes & Noble is trying to move past the NOOK. Maybe losing the e-reader race to the Amazon’s Kindle was a blessing in disguise, as it returns focus to brick-and-mortar bookstores, one of the few remaining shopping experiences that invites gathering and lingering and browsing after dinner.
And the indie bookstores that used to see Barnes & Noble as the enemy? They’re actually rooting for the new concept to succeed.
“If the big bookstores disappear, then there’s the question: Do we value bookstores as a culture?” says Martin Schmutterer, manager of Common Good Books in St. Paul.
“They’re part of the ecosystem,” adds Mary Magers of Magers & Quinn in Uptown. “They keep publishers in business.”
Both Schmutterer and Magers are feeling fairly optimistic about bookstores at the moment. Just consider the day after the presidential election. “People came in to talk about what happened, to meet their neighbors,” Schmutterer says. “You can’t do that on Twitter.”
Can’t get a gooey grilled cheese on the Internet, either.