Challenge,  publishing

A Trip to the Past

All We Did Was Walk Into a Store…

As we climbed out of the car this evening, Kris asked me, “Are you ready for a trip to the 1990s?”

And wow was she right.

The Barnes&Noble bookstore was in a late 1990’s strip mall. Modern, but still dated in architecture. And when we walked through the door, we really did step back in time. Decorations, layout, everything.


And even more frightening, the authors on the front fiction display table were the same authors that would have been there in the late 1990s.

So we roamed around for a time and honestly it was fun to explore in shelves of books. I’m old-fashioned that way, so the trip into the past felt very familiar and that was sort of comforting to an old guy like me.

Kris stumbled on one book for me, a western reference book, that I never would have found online. Otherwise, I bought three new Cussler novels that I easily could have gotten online, one of which was a $6 hardback on the clearance rack. And Kris found one book she also could have easily gotten online and would have if she hadn’t stumbled on it in the store.

I left the store and returned to 2018, telling Kris as we climbed back into our car that I hoped that B&N can manage to survive. But sadly, today was a major shopping day and the store had very few people in it. Kris asked the clerk how Black Friday sales were and she said, “It was steady.”

Oh, oh.. Not a good sign.

I hope the chain can find a way out of bad management, a path forward in 2018. But I fear from my one excursion tonight into the past, the folks running the chain don’t realize the century has turned and they are grasping tightly to 1998.

Just can’t see a way that 1998 in the book industry can be a successful business in 2018.

But I can hope, because it was fun to walk into the past for a short time tonight.


  • emmiD

    My last visit to B&N was two years ago. I walked out with nothing. Now, I’m a voracious reader, always have been, and can easily devour 4-5 books a week. But something about that store was not conducive to my book buying.

    In the stacks everything was displayed spines out. The table displays were loaded with classics or the latest in YA (Hunger Games was the rage). The bargain books had the better displays. It was the week before Christmas, and we were the only ones there.

    I wanted to buy books for gifts. I was after a cookbook, something about golf or baseball, great funny fiction, and the start of a good fantasy series. I thought I might pick up a book or two for myself (as had been my habit in years past, before my local bookstore went out of business). I found nothing.

    Well, I did convince someone I was with to get a wall calendar.

    I was saddened while in there and couldn’t figure out the reason. Had the loss of my old local brick & mortar so many years ago broken my browsing habit? I didn’t think so. How could I be around so many books and get nothing.

    We went to a McKays next, a massive used book store. Same stacks. Same spine-out displays. Same sort by category. I bought lots, including ppbacks for me.

    I thought it was the big grocery-store feeling—but McKays is in a big warehouse. Can’t be that. And McKays was swarming with people—and after years of being cooped up with 1200 plus teenagers, I don’t like crowds.

    The same happened last summer when I finally reached the southern book Mecca called Square Books in Mississippi. I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read although the people with me bought armloads.

    Have ebooks jaded me—or glutted me? Have I lost the browsing ability to find what I wanted? IDK.

    The thought of bookstores still excites me, but I don’t wanna go back to B&N or the Square. I’ll go to McKays.

    I remember a little strip mall bookstore in Savannah, run by a Greek lady. Long and narrow, books on the walls displayed cover out, a narrow table in the central aisle taking up walk room and filled with stacked books, the whole back section filled with children’s books. Saturday morning, lots of chatty people. I bought my normal four or five and wanted to buy 20 or 30.

    Maybe it’s the vibe. McKays and the little local were filled with people excited about reading. And B&N was filled with people too excited about being cool to get excited about reading. Again IDK. I wish I knew. I’d love to find a good local.

  • Rikki Mongoose

    I’ve just tried to visit the side of B&N.

    Guess, what I’ve got?

    Access Denied
    You don’t have permission to access “” on this server.

    B&N site is banned for people with IP-s from Russian region.

    Probably, they are afraid that Russian would order a top secret book.

    OK, B&N, ok. I’ll order it at Kobo. Or Amazon.

  • Janine

    Shame too. I enjoy roaming around the store once in a while, since it’s 45 minutes to an indie bookstore, and without going online, my only options are the paltry selections from the big box stores, which only carry bestsellers. I really hope they pull through, or it’s going to be a hard time for readers and writers (mostly traditional) alike.

  • Cora

    I just love visiting my local Chapters. Sure, they don’t have as many books as they used to, but they have wonderful tie ins and lots of fun stuff that can, however peripherally, often be tied into reading. I don’t like going in on weekends as we approach Christmas, because the check out line is often 20 or more people deep. They’ve managed to turn the bookstore into a destination again. Lots of fun stuff on weekends and during the summer for the kids. And there are much worse things to get kids addicted to than books. They’re not expanding, but they are holding their own. And I do find (for me at least) they have a pretty good selection. I always come out with something.

  • Ellen

    I’m one of the people putting stores like B&N out of business, I guess. I got my first Kindle in 2008, and the only physical books I’ve purchased since then are reference books and probably no more than one a year of those. A few years ago I stripped my house of all paper books except reference and some old favorites like Francis and Hillerman.* Even with the old favorites, though, while I’m generally too cheap to buy ebooks of something I already have, if my copy is a paperback and I see the digital version on sale, I’ll pounce. I’ve reached an age where reading paperbacks isn’t that comfortable.

    So nothing poor B&N does is going to get me back into their store. I know people who love, love The Tattered Cover in Denver. I’m only 20 miles from there and have been there. Crowded, inconvenient, more expensive. The only thing that made it worthwhile for me pre-digital was the larger selection. Now? The largest selection is online. I can’t imagine ever going there again either.

    * For the first time in my life, no messy, overflowing bookcases, no piles of books in every room, yet books still always available. My first reader was a Rocket Ebook, and I couldn’t understand how the whole world wasn’t entranced, but limited and overpriced availability dimmed my enthusiasm until the Big Breakout, which I attribute to Kindle.

  • Chong Go

    I’m pretty sure B&N is just a gift shop with lots of books these days. Sigh. They annoy me because they really screwed up a lot of stuff that they should have done better with. (Perhaps this is my conditioning as a WSU Cougars fan, “We snatch defeat from the grasp of victory!”) They may not have been able to “beat” Amazon, but they should have at least been able to keep more customers. It’s the employees who will suffer, and all of the medium sized publishers who still get a decent slice of their income from books sold through B&N.

  • Tony DeCastro

    I prefer paper books. I love bookstores. The two B&N in my town seem to still do well. They probably do look 90s era or earlier, though I’m not sure was a modern bookstore is supposed to look like (and if I did know, I probably wouldn’t like it). One of our B&N stores has had the center of the store taken over by a huge Nook kiosk, and I don’t like that. Haha. Obviously, from all the above I’ve written, I hope they survive. Mainly, though, I hope the local independent booksellers continue to hold on tooth and nail. Ironically, I wonder if we see B&N go under will we see the final nail in the coffin for those stores, too.

  • Vale Nagle

    I think I was always a poor match with traditional book stores. I like walking through shelves of books, but I’d quickly exhaust the selection of what interests me.

    My ideal book store really is Amazon. No bored, judgemental person ringing me up (“A fantasy? Wouldn’t you like a Tom Clancy instead?” or “I’ve never heard of that author before.”), lots of also-bought recommendations, the ability to easily purchase books by the authors I love.

    I want Amazon to have competition, but I’m not sure I’d notice if Barnes and Noble disappeared. I like movies and compelling television, but I didn’t notice when Blockbuster disappeared, and I haven’t had “cable” or “television channels” in at least a decade.

  • Hannah Steenbock

    We have two major bookstore chains in Germany. I no longer visit either.

    I don’t find anything I really want to read in them. The atmosphere in them makes my brain melt, for some reason. I used to love bookstores. (I loved libraries even more.) I used to read 4-5 books a week. I still read a lot, but I do that on my Kindle, and more non-fiction than fiction, these days.

    My town has two indie bookstores, and I am glad about that. One of them is just around the corner for me. And the staff is so surely I stay away from it. The other has an awesome owner, but it’s basically at the other end of town…

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if B&N were to disappear next year. Or in 2020. Because like Kris said, they never made it into the 21st century, just like those chains here.