Earlier this month B&N filed for a state liquor licence for their store in New Hartford, a small town located near Utica in upstate NY. The licence is part of a test by B&N to see how well customers would take to the sale of drugs in a bookstore. This particular licence is for beer and wine only.
According to Keven Danow, a New York City-based attorney who filed the licence application for B&N, it is not the first step in a plan to turn the bookstore into a bar or nightclub, or some other profitable business. "It's not going to change the complexion of the neighborhood," Danow told the Utica Observer-Dispatch.
Barnes & Noble is likely getting the licence in order to sell alcohol at book signings or readings, Danow suggested. He also added that food menu offerings at store cafes would be tweaked to offer items better paired with beer or wine.
He could be right, but then again B&N has shown every sign that they no longer want to be a bookstore. B&N is removing bookshelves so they can stock pasta, 3d printers, dolls, and other merchandise, so this could just be another pilot to test a new product that B&N plans to add to all stores. B&N is also experimenting with print on demand machines, and has installed three of them in B&N stores in the northeast.
But if this is part of a plan to sell alcohol as a compliment to books, B&N is in good company. A number of indie booksellers have launched hybrid bookstores that combine bars (or a brewery) with a bookstore.
So clearly there's a niche here, but I don't think it's one that B&N can move into. All of the hybrid booksellers are smaller indies which can serve a niche customer base, while B&N is focused on larger big-box stores where they have to cater to general consumers.
If B&N starts selling open containers of beer in their stores then they will do so at the cost of customers who will no longer bring their kids to the store, or shop there. And so whatever B&N gains from alcohol sales could be canceled out by other losses.
image by galenwiley