At one time, New Yorkers regarded chain bookstores as corporate invaders certain to drive independently owned bookshops out of their communities.
But now it is the chain bookstores that need saving—and in one Queens neighborhood, locals are stepping up.
Forest Hills residents are trying to rescue a Barnes & Noble that appears to be on its final chapter. The business, which like all brick-and-mortar bookstores has lost sales to Amazon and other Internet retailers, is minimally profitable and faces closure when its lease expires Jan. 31.
"Saving a chain store may seem ironic at first sight, but we already lost all of our small bookstores in the area," said Michele Dore, co-founder of the new (if awkwardly named) civic association Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens—Our Communities. "This is where locals have been going to for decades. It's simply a part of Forest Hills history."
Since 1995, the store at 70-00 Austin St. has become a popular hangout spot for teens, seniors and families. But talks between Barnes & Noble and its landlord, Muss Development, have bogged down over a proposed rent increase.
“We would like to extend the store at the rent we're paying or somewhere around it,” said David Deason, vice president of development at Barnes & Noble. “As a public company, we can't afford to operate a store and lose money. We have shareholders to think about. We will stretch as far as we can go.”
But competition from e-commerce has eroded the store's elasticity. Muss Development's chief operating officer, Jeff Kay, said Barnes & Noble has received multiple rent reductions in the past.