Op-Ed, Opinion

Bronx Barnes & Noble’s Story Still Has More To Tell

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., visited the Bronx’s Barnes & Noble when it announced it would remain open. Courtesy of Flickr

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., visited the Bronx’s Barnes & Noble when it announced it would remain open. Courtesy of Flickr

By Margarita Artoglou 

It was recently announced that the Barnes &Noble in Co-op City’s Bay Plaza would be closing its doors for good.

Under different circumstances, this might be met with disappointment from the store’s regular patrons, knowing they would soon find another neighborhood bookstore and resolve the problem.

Sadly, this was not the case because there are no other neighborhood bookstores left. In fact, Bronx residents had to rally to get the store to open in their borough in the first place.

This Barnes &Noble is not only the chain’s sole surviving location in the Bronx, but is also the last general-interest bookstore in the entire borough. After petitions and negotiations by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., an agreement was made to keep the store in the Bronx.

Unfortunately, the agreement only guarantees that the store will stay open for another two years.

The problems started when the property owners, Prestige Properties and Development, raised the rent, and Barnes &Noble could not foot the bill.

The Bronx, traditionally a low-income area, has been seeing some economic revitalization in the past few years in the form of new stores and franchises.

While there are some positive aspects to this new investment into the Bronx, it also means that prices will continue rising in neighborhoods where many businesses will not be able to afford these price hikes.

What this meant for the Bay Plaza Barnes & Noble, specifically, was that rent was going up, and there were other companies willing to pay Prestige’s higher prices. Coupled with the fact that book sales have been declining, it was not feasible for the bookstore to survive without some government intervention.

Bookstores can become community centers, and foster growth and education. It is clear that this particular shop is treasured by the community.

A huge mural pays homage to Bronx landmarks, including Fordham University; Bronx residents take buses and trains from all over the borough to get there and many people spend hours reading and lounging in the in-store cafe.

But, with rent rising and book sales decreasing, keeping the store running looks like an impossible task, regardless of the community benefits it may bring.

“It seems like people just aren’t spending enough money on books,” says Helen Keating, GSB ’18. “From a business perspective, it makes sense to shut down Barnes & Noble if they can’t pay the rising rents when another business can. The property owners aren’t taking the community into consideration, they’re just thinking about the bottom line.”

In a society where the popularity of e-readers and online vendors like Amazon are rising, the need for brick-and-mortar bookshops is dwindling. From a business standpoint, it is more profitable to follow the trends. Why fight to keep this one location open when it clearly is not bringing in enough cash?

In certain incomes do not leave much room to purchase books, but bookstores are still important for their atmospheres. Reading improves education, and leads to increased opportunity and socioeconomic mobility.

The closing of the Bronx’s last bookstore would bring limited access to educational materials. E-readers can be expensive and, despite the trends, not every person who wants access to books can afford to purchase a Kindle.

Additionally, the electronics policies in New York City public schools forbid such devices on school property. In a society where income inequality and disparities in education are so high, access to books is essential.

Critics may say the solution is obvious: head to the library. But, libraries are not always well-stocked, and students who want to check out an SAT prep book a couple of weeks before an exam or a popular new novel will likely find meager offerings.

Besides, many book lovers will tell you that there is something special about owning a paperback and leafing through its pages.

It is also unfair to say that Bronx residents should have to travel all the way to Manhattan or Queens if they would like to own a book, especially when the Co-op City location is already a trek for many patrons.

The revitalization of the Bronx is threatening to push out businesses that the community fought for in order to make way for other franchises.

It seems like many forces are fighting the survival of the Bronx’s bookstore, and while it will be a challenge to keep it up and running, it is up to residents to show their support.

As Diaz noted, “If you want a store to flourish and stay here in our borough, you have to petition with your wallets.”

November 5, 2014

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