Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Plenty of gnashing over the news that Barnes and Noble is planning to close its downtown store on Smithfield St. which would leave downtown without a major bookstore.

or will it?

I bet this is just posturing on the company's part negotiating for a better lease. They may also be considering a different location in town which would put them in a good bargaining position. While it is possible that downtown could be left bookless it does seem strange. Whenever I am in that store it seems as crowded as a typical suburban B&N.

Makes you put in perspective the metric that pops up on occassion about Pittsburgh being one of the most literate regions in the country. That's an odd statistic as well. I am tempted to try and derive a number for the how we compare in terms of bookstores per capita. I'm not so sure we do so well in terms of used-book stores though.

It was pointed out ot me that there is a full service Barnes and Noble at Point Park University downtown. So things are not as desperate as they seem.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just about every new book I buy I get online. I only get new books at a store when I'm shopping for someone at the last minute, or when I really want to browse in order to get the right gift. That's just me, and I'm sure the big chains are doing fine. But their mere presence seems at best an imperfect measure of a community's interest in books. And quite frankly what's the big deal if Downtown doesn't have a major bookseller.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006 9:36:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I suppose I could be snarky and say there is an element of 'let them eat cake' in talking about online book sales addressing community demand.

but what does it matter? Maybe nothing but surely there are a fair number people who like the idea of a bookstore downtown. Just one piece of the downtown enigma if the market does not really generate eough demand for a single major bookstore. If you add up workers, students, shoppers, other visitors (plenty of govt offices) there may be 200K+ daily visitors downtown. Does B+N not think there are all these high end condo dwellers about to invade downtown?

I myself wrote off the downtown book scene when the place on Forbes just off Wood st, between the defunct Mcdonald's and the defunct NRM, closed a couple years ago. That was much more my speed. Especially if you could get upstairs.

Thursday, November 23, 2006 9:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, if we are talking major book retailers like BN, Borders, etc., isn't the demand already being met elsewhere in the city and the surrounding communities? There's the new Border's in "Eastside", the BN in Squirrel Hill, Joseph Bath at SouthSide Works, and the various malls. I think this takes us back to the same old debate over Downtown. What does it need and what can it sustain? (And the other question is who makes use of the Downtown BN. Is it mostly office workers? Students? Residents of the Hill? How about on weekends?)

On the other hand, sometimes a book store is just a book store.

Thursday, November 23, 2006 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

"a book store is just a book store"

I suppose. I am just pointing out that people are talking about this in a way they don't normally do about other closings. Did Ralph's discount electronics garner similar debate. (Ralphs is closed isn't it?).

It raises the possibility that people just upset with the idea that downtown could be left without a bookstore but didn't actually shop there enough to keep it open? But one way or another I do think people imbue something more significant about the bookstore leaving.

I was thinking of something else. The library moved across the street after B&N was well established there. The downtown library has been quite migratory. That branch was in Bank Center, and Steel Plaza T stop and other places over the years. I wonder if the current location was chosen in some part because it was near the bookstore. Maybe someone thought they were helping to create a literary corner in Downtown?

who knows.. maybe they have some internal marketing document that says never put a commerical bookstore next to a public library.

Friday, November 24, 2006 7:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should add that I would be rather disappointed to see that BN close, even though I've rarely made us of it. People who love books love bookstores, even people like me who don't often buy things in them. It's fun to spend a long time roaming through them. I think people feel the same way about record stores. You get emotionally attached to them.

I just don't think losing a bookstore has anymore meaning for the health of Downtown or the city than losing any other kind of store, when it comes down to cold hard reality.

Friday, November 24, 2006 9:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will say this--having a bookstore Downtown does make it more desirable to live there, a point you alluded to earlier.

Friday, November 24, 2006 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

if you are disappointed despite not using the store, it makes sense to think many others are equally disappointed. Imagine how those who actually do make use of the store feel. People tend to make that disappointment felt.

"cold hard reality"... what does that mean?

actually the issue here is rather straightforward. You yourself give evidence that some people consider a bookstore more than a bookstore as you frame it. Why else would someone feel disappointed that a store they don't much use is closing. This is the definition of a positive externality.. arguably a public good in a sense.

lest anyone thing I suggest more than I do. A retail store being a public good does not mean one ought to go subsidize it.. at least publicly. Yet within a commerical framework, stores like this are often subsidized by the market. Malls charge 'anchor' stores less per sq foot than many other stores because they generage demand for all within a mall. Probably downtowns biggest problem with retaining some large stores is the nature of the market that makes differential pricing like that difficult to put in place. The current owners of the gimbels building probably can't offer much of a discount to B&N becasue they are not capturing much of the benefit it brings to that section of town,

Saturday, November 25, 2006 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, wasn't the Gimbel's building part of an earlier Downtown redevelopment project? I might be mistaken, but I seem to recall it might have received a TIF or some other kind of tax break.

I suppose what we are arguing about is just how people will make their disappointment felt, as you say. I will agree that losing BN makes Downtown harder to market as a residential neighborhood. In that sense, it is worse than, say, losing another department store. And yes, some people who make regular use of BN, and who come to Downtown primarily for that reason, are going to be lost as customers to the remaining Downtown businesses. But the same could be said of the customers of any other store.

The Post-Gazette seems to think that there is some great symbolic value in having a bookstore Downtown. To me, this is another example of people overemphasizing the importance of the Golden Triangle.

Saturday, November 25, 2006 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

maybe I was not clear. This was not started as a comment on the PG coverage. That was just one case in point. I have heard many people express concern about this in both public and private conversations. PG is clearly just reflecting that, not causing it in this particular case. In fact, many I have heard talk about this are surprised this is not a bigger news story and did not even catch the story itself when it ran.

As for "the same could be said of the customers of any other store" maybe so.. but you discount the big differences in some stores vs. others. Whether B&N counts as an anchor store in any sense I do not know. Many if not most stores do not generate any such collateral demand.. but also don't ever foment any comment of any kind. Again, why did nobody ever make such a big deal of Ralph's closing? This dialogue has made me consider that downtowns ‘retail problem’ as it were, may not be about consumer demand as everyone just assumes, but the inability to effect differential rents the way suburban malls do.

but I will have to check the history, but there was no TIF for the Gimbels building redevelopment to my knowledge.. at least not the initial Penzer project which converted the building multi-tenant retail in the first place. I'd be careful, that's how rumors start. I think there was some URA loan involved in trying to rehab more of the building but I am not sure it was that much.

Saturday, November 25, 2006 4:59:00 PM  

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