America's last major book store chain is shuttering locations as it tries to evolve for a digital future. Is this simply a tough transition, or the beginning of the end?
Washington D.C.'s Union Station is a major point of entry for the nation's capital. Streams of daily commuters from the region, tourists, and business travelers on the Amtrak circuit from Boston and New York can choose from an especially ample array of shopping and dining opportunities. But, as of the end of February, one of the anchor retailers will be gone. Barnes & Noble is shutting down its bookstore in a main concourse after failing to reach terms with the landlord. Browsing the aisles at Barnes & Noble stores has been a core feature of the chain's strength in the forty years since Leonard Riggio purchased the assets of what was then a venerable seller mainly of textbooks and turned the enterprise into the country's most formidable shaper of a superstore culture for book selling.
It is hard to imagine a destination like Union Station without a fully stocked bookstore, even if it is also the case that an increasing percentage of the consumer traffic is carrying a mobile reading device that is loaded with books purchased elsewhere, mainly from Amazon. The sprawling Barnes & Noble on Georgetown's M Street is gone, and the company has closed superstores in New York, Dallas, Chicago, and Seattle (among other places) in similarly well-situated locales as part of a broader brick and mortar contraction that suggests--disturbingly--its long-term decline. Barnes & Noble's post-holiday report for 2012 reflected a drop in same-store sales of 3.1 percent, and despite a substantial push to expand its Nook line of e-readers, product sales for the devices were down 12.6 percent from a year ago.