I read on Twitter this past week that Barnes & Noble had used the pandemic-imposed shutdown as an opportunity to reorganize or remodel their stores, so I made some time in my schedule today to stop by the store in Manassas, VA.
Very little has changed in that store in the ten years or so that I’ve been visiting. The layout has stayed essentially the same, with the only major change being the withering of the Nook displays as Barnes & Noble’s digital division declined. (Up until 2014 the Nook displays occupied tables right inside the entrance and to the right of the Nook kiosk. First the Nook displays were removed from the tables, and then in the summer of 2018 the kiosk was removed.)
Around half the store remains unchanged. There’s still a cafe in the front right corner, the registers are to the left of the door, the magazine rack and kids dept are along the left wall, and there’s still a central aisle leading from the entrance to the customer service desk near the rear of the store.
The right half of the store is still devoted to books, but it did get new new display facing the entrance:
The biggest change was to the left of the central aisle, in front of the registers. That section used to have gifts, then books, and then a music dept in the back, but now it has books, music, and games.
The prime real estate in front of the registers that used to be cluttered with games, gifts, and gewgaws (it honestly looked messy every time I saw it) is now occupied by books. The games, gifts, and gewgaws have been moved to the back of the store, in the huge space the music dept used to occupy across the back wall. The music dept shrank by half, and has been pushed forward from its previous location.
It was my impression in the store that books were much more prominent, and I think there were more of them than before, too. What I found especially interesting was that the books chosen for the prime real estate near the registers were really interesting. The titles alone kept inspiring me to pick them up and flip through them.
I no longer buy print books, but I was really tempted to do so, and that hasn’t happened to me in a bookstore in a really long time. In fact, the last time I was tempted to buy a book in a bookstore was when I browsed Amazon’s newly opened Amazon Books location in Georgetown.
Make of that what you will.
P.S. B&N has of course responded to the ongoing pandemic. They now hold books in quarantine before reshelving them, and you can also have a stack of free masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer on a table by the entrance.