Coming loss of Barnes & Noble should grieve local book lovers
“I love books, love to hold them, open them, browse in them, smell the paper and ink.
Now and then I even read one.”
— Garrison Keillor
Keillor Reader, Viking, May 2014
Keillor goes on to say that he opened an independent bookstore in St. Paul in 2006 because “The neighborhood bookstore had shut down and people missed it, and so there was an obligation.”
I don’t think Gazette readers realize that we may be faced with an obligation to do something similar here because there is imminent danger that the Barnes & Noble at Mohawk Commons in Niskayuna will be forced to close on June 30.
The first sign of a problem was a short piece in local newspapers on April 9 saying that DDR of Beachwood, Ohio, the owner of most of Mohawk Commons, had applied to the Niskayuna Planning Board and Zoning Commission for approval of a revised site plan that would lead to division of one of the Commons anchor stores into three small stores of unspecified nature because “Barnes & Noble was closing.”
From that date until the day I write, May 19, I have seen no public comment regarding such impending misfortune, not even a single Letter to the Editor of The Gazette. Where is the outrage?
Historically, I cut the ribbon at the opening of the first Mohawk Mall in 1970, watched it prosper for a few years until it began a downward spiral after it lost its Boston Store and other anchors, and I was town supervisor again when it closed in 1995. That seems to be the fate of all malls, later if not sooner, and a quarter-century is a bit better than par for the course.
So what are the anchor stores whose loss would mark the beginning of the end of Mohawk Commons? One is certainly Target, or Tar Chez to its young women patrons, but it is the only store at the Commons that DDR does not own. Target, Inc. itself does, and will not close until it wants to, there being no lease to renew from time to time. But B&N is certainly an anchor, too. So does it want to close, or is it being forced out? I set out to find out.
The closing of B&N would be a life-changing event for me. It has been our habit for many years now to go there after 11:30 Mass on Sunday, arriving at about 1 p.m. Jean calls that the “1 o’clock mass” because the mass of patrons converging there makes it hard to park. Why should such a successful emporium want to close? Makes no sense. Why should DDR want to force the closure of a prosperous anchor store that brings people to the Commons who shop at other stores while they are there? More nonsense.
For our first three Sunday visits after April 9, every clerk and store manager I asked told me emphatically that the store was not closing. Then my heart sank on the fourth when a manager said that they probably would have to. But my spirits rose when I learned from the town that DDR, through their engineering agent, had asked that the request to subdivide the store into three pieces be placed on hold.
With some difficulty, I reached a person at DDR to ask what was up. His answer was that the only reason for asking for a subdivision was that they wanted to get ready for what they feared would be an eventual decision by B&N to close many stores because e-books were starting to erode the sale of hard cover books, the kind that Garrison Keillor and I and many millions still prefer.
Last Sunday, I finally lost faith. There were too many 30-percent-off displays. So I asked the manager of the day why, and I was told that they must vacate as of June 30 even though the company very much wanted to renew its lease.
So, though it will be far less often than every Sunday, I will have to drive to Albany or Wilton for a B&N experience, or to that nice new Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga.
As to the local fiasco, I recommend that we ask Niskayuna not to approve the subdivision and tell DDR to go get us an Office Max to fill a serious gap in town shopping opportunities.
Surely we don’t need a fourth place to buy mattresses within 800 feet of one another. We won’t take our disappointment lying down.
Edwin D. Reilly Jr. lives in Niskayuna and is a regular contributor to the Sunday opinion pages.