The borough’s last remaining bookstore – a Barnes and Noble in Bay Plaza – will close on December 31st, the company has announced, saying it can no longer pay the rising rent. It will be replaced by a Saks 5th Avenue.
“Everyone’s upset,” said a cashier from behind a sign that reads “No Muggles Beyond This Point.”
Among the most heartbroken was one employee at the store, who declined to give her name. “I came with the plumbing,” she said through tears. “I’ve helped kids half my height, and some of them come back through college.”
The store attracts the kind of clientele typical of many chain bookstores: retired men reading magazines in the wooden armchairs around the store’s perimeter, a preteen girl and her mother searching through a pile of clearance notebooks for the perfect one, a high school couple holding hands and weighing the pros and cons of calendars that range in topics from “Pope Francis” to “Cows Who Do Yoga” to “Hot Guys with Cats.” The bookstore is a meeting place for introverts of all ages, where people can appreciate the quiet offerings of literature without necessarily purchasing a book.
Jeanine Thomas-Cross, manager of the Mott Haven branch library on East 140th Street, says communities based on books are vital to the Bronx. People don’t always come to the library just to read, she said. Some come to use the computer, to attend some of the library’s programming, or simply to stay warm, yet the influence of literature seems to rub off on all who enter.
“Yesterday there were gentlemen sitting down at the computers while Ms. Eve [the children’s librarian] was singing at Fairy Tale Hour. She was on the second floor, but the gentlemen down here were singing along with her. Everybody was getting fairy tales.”
As bookstores across the city have been closing, library use has been going up. Library program attendance, book circulation and the proliferation of digital books have steadily increased in the city’s library system over the last five years. Thomas-Cross says physical books are currently still the first choice amongst library patrons, but e-books are the library’s next best bet for delivering the most sought-after works.
While the era of digital reading can be practical for libraries and for those with a device, digital reading has been a threat to bookstores and the community who gather to be around physical books. Noëlle Jen-ai Santos, a 29 year-old lifelong resident of the Bronx, says she was worried about the literary community even before the Barnes and Noble announced it was closing. She has been planning to open a literature-themed bar for the last two years and hopes to open The Lit Bar in 2017 in the South Bronx.
“Reading is my self-care and healing ritual. Bookshops offer a physical community in which to share thoughts, ideas, and organize,” she wrote in an email. “I believe [Trump’s] election and the tone of his campaign will forge a greater sense of urgency for community building.”