Twenty-five years or so ago, when Barnes & Noble stores and Borders stores began to open up in my region, I spent hours each month poring over their bookshelves, flipping through magazines in their cafes and listening to free live music on weekend evenings. I did this by myself, with friends and even on dates.
For a while, these big bookstores did big business with their discounted prices and gathering place vibes. Then came the internet and, more specifically, Amazon, with deeper discounts and the ease of buying online that chipped away at the brick-and-mortar bookstore customer base. iTunes and other online digital streaming sources made the music and video sections of the bookstores obsolete. For a while, the popularity of e-books made it look like physical books might become obsolete, too.
Barnes & Noble hopes to get more people to browse their bookshelves by offering more non-book amenities in new concept stores. (Photo: Renee Schietzke/flickr)
Borders eventually closed its doors, but Barnes & Noble has been hanging on — and the landscape has continued to change. The sales of digital books have slowed sharply, and not only are physical book sales up, but so are the number of independent bookstores, once believed to be closer to death than physical books.
Perhaps this surge in independent bookstores and readers' desire to hold a book in their hands is what led Barnes & Noble to revitalize its stores and once again become a gathering place. Last week the chain announced it will open four concept stores in fiscal year 2017 with bars offering beer and wine and bigger cafes with better food, according to Fortune. There will even be waiter service.
The first concept store will open in October in Eastchester, New York, with cool new perks like a fire pit and a bocce court. The other stores are slated to open in Edina, Minnesota; Folsom, California and Loudoun County, Virginia.
Can booze, bocce and fire pits get people back into big-box bookstores, meeting up with friends and spending hours there at a time? Will they spend money on books once they are there?
Jaime Carey, president of the development and restaurant group for Barnes & Noble, is hopeful.
"We think they're going to drive traffic to the store and keep [customers] in the store longer," he said in a statement to Fortune. If it works, the concept could be expanded and added into existing stores that have the room.