Barnes & Noble will be shutting down its retail store in Bay Plaza at Co-op City in the Bronx after more than a decade of serving the borough. Or as the Daily News aptly put it, “the Bronx is about to go bookless” because of a lease disagreement between the bookstore chain and its landlord, Prestige Properties & Development.
“We worked diligently to extend the lease,” says Barnes & Noble’s vice president of development, David Deason, who claims that the property developers raised their rent prices and informed Barnes & Noble that there were buyers who could pay more for their space.
A spokesperson at Prestige, however, blamed the bookstore for failing to renew its lease and rejecting the space that the landlords offered in the new mall right across from the store’s current location.
As expected, Bronx residents aren’t taking this lying down. “It hurts because this [Barnes & Noble] is a symbol of the intellectual coming-of-age of the borough and it’s just being removed because of a dispute,” Stephen Kaufman, a former state assemblyman from the Bronx, told the New York Times.
Back in the 1990s, Kaufman spearheaded a three-year struggle to bring Barnes & Noble to the Bronx. He felt so victorious when the store finally opened in the fall of 1999 that he crowned the achievement as “one of the highlights of [his] legislative career.”
— NY1 News (@NY1) October 23, 2014
Young Bronx residents like Amelia Zaino, 24, have started an online petition calling on both sides of the imbroglio to do what it takes to keep the Bronx Barnes & Noble open. Zaino and her fellow petitioner, Jessica Cruz, know that if the parties fail to reach a compromise, by the end of the year the Bronx will be the only borough in New York without a standard bookstore.
“In a borough with nearly a dozen institutions of higher education and almost 20 percent of its residents now possessing a bachelor’s degree, the lack of accessibility to quality literature, in addition to art and hobby supplies, is truly alarming,” the petition reads.
Aside from a few specialized small shops that sell college textbooks, comics, and religious works, the 25,000-square-foot Barnes & Noble is the only major retailer in the borough with a vast collection of books.
The borough’s last independent store, Books in the Hood, closed in 2011 after toughing it out for four years.
Rising rents and changes in reading habits — competing with the likes of Amazon — have turned bookstores into endangered entities throughout the city and country. Five Barnes & Noble retail stores have shut down in Manhattan since 2007, including its former flagship Fifth Avenue store, which closed in January.
Last year, Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble’s retail group, informed the Wall Street Journal that the company intends to cut back on retail locations by about 20 annually. At the moment, the chain runs 658 stores nationwide, including the one in the Bronx.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz is working to resolve the friction between Barnes & Noble and Prestige, a spokesman from Diaz’s office told the Times.
Update, 2:00 p.m.:
At a noon press conference today, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz announced that Prestige Properties will extend Barnes & Noble’s lease by two years.
Diaz described the agreement as a “major victory” for the Bronx and hoped that the extension will give both companies the time to reach a long-term agreement. He added that the arrangement will also save the jobs of Bronxites working for the bookstore chain.
While Barnes & Noble’s executives were excited, Prestige CEO Sam Shalem made it plain that the decision was made as a “courtesy to the community.”
“Keeping Barnes & Noble in our borough is beneficial for all and we are thankful for the borough president’s assistance in helping make this happen,” he said.