News of another bookstore shutting its doors doesn’t come as a surprise these days, but in the case of Barnes & Noble in Braintree, it’s about the lack of a lease, not the lack of customers.
The chain’s store at 150 Granite St. will close Saturday after 26 years because of a dispute with the landlord over renewing its lease at the busy location, not far from South Shore Plaza.
“It’s not that we want to leave, we have no choice but to leave," Barnes & Noble district manager Barbara Marshall said Wednesday as customers browsed the store’s aisles, possibly for the last time. “We thought until the last moment that we were going to be able to work something out with the landlord.”
The building’s landlord, W.P. Carey Inc., was less direct in its assessment of the impasse.
“We’ve had an open dialogue with Barnes & Noble for many months and continue to do so,” W.P. Carey said in a statement. The New York-based global real estate investment company said it was "disappointed when Barnes & Noble made the decision to close this store, but we look forward to working with new tenants at this property soon.”
The good news for longtime customers is that the Barnes & Noble story may yet include another Braintree chapter — the company says it is scouting for a new location in the town. In the meantime, employees — there are about three dozen — have the option of transferring to one of the chain’s other stores, Marshall said.
“When customers talk about Barnes & Noble, they say ‘my Barnes & Noble,’ because everyone has their own,” she said. “Our goal is trying to stay within this community.”
Since the store announced a week ago that it would close, the parking lot has been jammed most of the time.
Anne Marie Silvasy, who stopped by with her two granddaughters, said she was saddened to see the closing sign when she walked in the door.
“I come here quite frequently because my sons give me gift cards for here all the time,” she said. “I hope they find a location nearby.”
Marshall said there are no clearance sales, though the store has been busier than normal with customers who apparently figured they’d score a good deal or two.
And while many people seem to believe Barnes & Noble is going out of business entirely ― another brick-and-mortar victim in the age of online shopping — that’s not the reality, said company CEO James Daunt.
Barnes & Noble, however, has struggled in recent years, and last year was taken over by hedge fund giant Elliott Management Corp., which named Daunt to the top job.
(Of course, it wasn’t so long ago that Barnes & Noble and the now defunct Borders chain were helping to accelerate the demise of many independent bookstores across the country.)
In an interview, Daunt said Elliott is investing heavily in Barnes & Noble, citing plans to open 15 new stores in 2020 and to remodel the chain’s 627 existing locations.
“We have a pretty old fleet of stores which need investment,” he said. “We have been going through many years of closing stores and not opening a great many of them, and we would like to reverse that — a chain should not be synonymous with under-invested, slightly boring, and rather messy stores.”
He said the focus is on improving book displays, curating a better book selection, and making over children’s sections.
Marshall, the district manager, said the Braintree store was scheduled for a remodel.
“The fact that [W.P. Carey] wasn’t willing to work with us and give us a lease that was workable...we can’t put money into redoing the whole location knowing that they want us out very quickly, or even a year later,” she said.
Customer Michael Mahoney said he couldn’t understand how the two parties couldn’t agree on lease.
“It’s kind of crazy that they can’t come to terms on the rent,” he said, holding a stack of six books as he shopped on Wednesday. “You are going to have another vacancy instead of a thriving store.”
Paul Sudenfield, who has been coming to the Barnes & Noble for 20 years, said there was always a crowd in the store.
“If the landlord is going to cancel their lease, they must have someone else coming into this location right away,” he said. “Why would you leave it empty? I would give [Barnes & Noble] a break, especially if you know they are going to be there.”
Daunt is attempting to do for Barnes & Noble what he did for Waterstones, Britain’s biggest bookstore chain, which is also owned by Elliot.
“I ran Waterstones through some very dark times when the business effectively went bankrupt in 2011,” he said. “We embarked then on a doubling down on physical books and the physical bookstore, and it went extremely well for us.” (A Waterstones on Exeter Street in Boston closed years ago.)
Daunt said a successful bookstore must incorporate three essential elements: an appealing atmosphere, the right selection of books, and knowledgeable staff.
“If you do all three of those things, you have something which is, frankly, hugely powerful and addictive and will sell you a much better book than Amazon will ever do,” he said.
At the Braintree Barnes & Noble, 8-year-old Nathan Owen said he is among those who still prefer bookstores to Amazon. During a visit Wednesday with his father and sister, he picked out two books.
“It is quicker because you just go," Nathan said of the in-store shopping experience. “When you get books online, it takes two days to come.”