While in the Stamford Town Center recently, I discovered that a giant, two-story Barnes & Noble still is open - though it seems like a remnant from another time. But I also observed an exchange between a mother and child that reminded me why bookstores can still be relevant, and a priority that food retailers ought to set for themselves.
After I recorded this FaceTime, the Wall Street Journal had a story about Barnes & Noble and its CEO, James Daunt, who was brought in to revive a badly damaged retail brand about four years ago.
Daunt's plan "to save the company and its bookstores is to combine the power of a big chain with the pleasure of a beloved indie," the Journal writes. "By shifting control of the process to individual store managers across the country, Daunt is giving local booksellers permission to do things they were never able to do before. They have discretion over purchasing, placement and even pricing.
"He wants Barnes & Noble locations to feel welcoming but not overwhelming - a chain store should be more inviting and less intimidating than a truly independent shop - and that means he needs the people who run them to make sensible decisions for their markets. “It’s only inexcusable if it’s not interesting,” he said.
While I'm not sure the Stamford, Connecticut, store yet lives up to that mantra - Barnes & Noble reportedly has spent millions on a store on Manhattan's Upper West Side to create a model for what all its stores can be - I think that what Daunt is trying to do and the brief but powerful exchange I witnessed between a mother and child actually dovetail. It is about imagination and aspiration that can powerfully occur in a bricks-and-mortar environment.
I would argue, in fact, that these are the things that will make bricks-and-mortar relevant going forward, and if retailers do not embrace these opportunities (and yes, let's admit it, challenges), their reason for being will be diminished.
I'm talking about all kinds of retail, but I must admit that I have. soft spot for bookstores and real hope that they can continue to thrive. That's not necessarily going to be easy in an environment where books are being banned, and both booksellers and librarians are being targeted. One of most heartening things I have seen in the past few years was the "Banned Books" table at a Barnes & Noble - that's how to stay relevant and resonant, in my view.
BTW, you can read the Journal piece about Barnes & Noble here.