Barnes & Noble: When a chain store becomes "the little shop around the corner"

Encino residents are up in arms as Barnes & Noble gets squeezed out by higher rents.

Gene J. Puskar/AP
Some book lovers, once annoyed by large bookselling chains, are now afraid of seeing them shut.

Once upon a time, book lovers saw the big chain bookstores as enemies. Even though they offered aisles and aisles of books, they were very often viewed as interlopers who would squeeze out smaller but dearly loved local bookstores.

Today, however, as e-books begin to capture their share of the bookselling market, the distinction between big-box booksellers and the smaller guys may start to blur. In Encino, Calif., book lovers are said to be "outraged" by the announcement that their local Barnes & Noble is being pushed out of town by rising rents.The store, apparently, wasn't making enough money to meet the higher costs.

According to local radio station KCRW, Encino bibliophiles had originally been "devastated because big chains were squeezing independent bookstores out of business." Now, however, they view the loss of Barnes & Noble as "the passing of another cultural resource."

The Encino story is uncomfortably reminiscent of one of last Christmas's sadder tales. When corporate parent Barnes & Noble made a decision last year to shutter all B. Dalton bookstores nationwide, it risked leaving the city of Laredo, Tex., without a bookstore.

The citizens of Laredo rallied around the store in every way possible. Customers launched a "Laredo Reads" campaign. The city council passed a resolution. A local 4th-grade class engaged in a letter-writing blitz. But the 30-year-old store – which was actually turning a profit – closed nonetheless, leaving Laredo with the dubious distinction of becoming the largest city in the US (pop. 250,000) without a bookstore.

It's the kind of story that could make book lovers everywhere a bit uneasy.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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