December 2, 2015

In the city that spends the most on books, it’s only indies now


B&N was the last big retail tenant left in the office building owned by MetLife and Norges Bank.

B&N is not renewing their lease on the ground floor of an office building owned by MetLife and Norges Bank.

The American city that spends the most money on books, magazines, and newspapers—Washington, D.C.—will soon be left without any chain bookstores. 

Despite the recent revival of the brick-and-mortar bookshop (in London, and Seattle, and even The People’s Republic of China, not to mention Washington itself), The Washington Post reports that Barnes & Noble is slated to close its only non-university affiliated location in Washington, D.C. on December 31st of this year, losing its 32,000 square-foot-space on the ground floor of the Thurman Arnold Building on 12th and E streets NW.

This follows the closure of the city’s Books-A-Million outlet earlier this year, and means D.C. will be left without any chain bookstores. 

“Despite our best efforts to come to an agreement with the property owner to extend the lease, they have decided to move forward with another tenant.” said David Deason, Barnes & Noble’s vice president of development in a statement to D.C.’s City Paper. He added, however, that the city was “important to us,” and that the company is looking at replacement locations, hoping to have a new store in D.C. sometime in the near future.

The New York Times reports that although the first quarter of this fiscal year was strong for B&N (helped along by Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, E.L. JamesGrey, and the “boom” in adult coloring books), the retailer expects store closures to continue. Barnes & Noble closed at least thirteen stores this year alone, leaving America’s only chain bookstore with just 647 storefronts, down from the 1,000-plus stores of just a few years ago. (D.C. is not the only major metropolitan area impacted—by year’s end, B&N will also have closed its final location in Queens).

And while B&N still has 736 college bookstores—well, it doesn’t. As of August of this year, the college branch became a separate company (D.C. has two university-affiliated stores at Howard University and Catholic University).

Usually when a Barnes & Noble closes, it’s perceived as a lamentable occurrence—a mark of the demise of the brick-and-mortar business, as well as a notch on the belt of our favorite, ahem, “innovator of gloom.”

But for D.C., which is home to numerous, long-established indies such as Politics & ProseKramerbooks, and Capitol Hill Books, Busboys and Poets, Bridge Street Booksas well as the newbie Upshur Street Books (where President Obama did his Small Business Saturday shopping this year), the closure of this particular Barnes & Noble doesn’t mean Amazon has stolen the hearts and souls of readers—rather, it should underscore the importance of relying on D.C.’s favorite indie booksellers. 


Julia Irion Martins is an intern at Melville House.