Saturday, March 24, 2012

Changes at Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble is changing, with books giving way to toys and electronics. I shouldn't be surprised. Everything changes, and Barnes & Noble is swimming hard to keep from drowning as Borders did.  Still, something about the changes makes me sad.

When my kids were little, going to the bookstore was a family event.  On weekend mornings, we packed ourselves off for a couple of hours at the bookstore.  Everybody browsed; we checked out each other's choices, we pushed the toppling pile onto the checkout counter and gave our discount code; and eventually we took our bag of books to the coffee shop section to read and eat a pastry.

We started off at Border's, which had a broad winding stairway to the children's section on the upper floor.  Then a Barnes & Noble opened across the street, and we started going there instead, because it had more books.

Today, three of the kids and I visited Barnes & Noble.  It had been a while.  For a while I diligently went to the small independent store in town, but it closed last summer.  Since then, I admit it: I've been buying almost exclusively from Amazon.  At least my daughter has a Nook and patronizes B & N online.  We need to do something to keep bookstores alive so other families can come and spend the morning comparing books and sharing their excitement about the reading adventures to come.

Today's Barnes & Noble revolves around the Nook center, which takes up a large circular space in the middle of the store.  This little piece of the store reminds me of an Apple store, with desks where you can stand or sit on a stool and play with colorful electronic screens.  Lots of kids were experimenting with drawing programs.

Just behind the Nook center lies an equally large toy center, bigger and more concentrated than ever before.  Light sabers, puzzles, robots, and board games beckon from tabletops and shelves.

As for the children's section, it's shrunk some.  The books are more widely spaced.  I couldn't find my favorite section, the 9-12 section.  There were a few favorite series and a lot of activity-based books, but pre-teens got lost somewhere between picture books and Paranormal Romance.

Yes, Paranormal Romance.  There were four shelf sections for Teen Fiction and four more just for Paranormal Romance.  And here I was hoping we were reaching the end of that phase.  As for the Teen Fiction itself, it was mostly Non-Paranormal Romance.  Oh, and there were three more sections of  non-romance teen fantasy.

Damian managed to find a lot of books in the science fiction section, and he sat and read in a corner.  He sat on the floor, because I'm happy to say that every sofa and chair was still filled by someone reading.  People managed to wend their way among the toys and find some books to read.  But still, I miss the days when I was able to bring my kids to a store that focused on books - a wide variety of fiction, old and new, beautiful picture books and re-printed classics, back when bookstores didn't have to scramble so hard after every new fad to keep their doors open.

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