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B&N Removing Comfy Chairs to Discourage the Homeless (?)

14370252093_8a262e06d3_hHere’s a disturbing story about B&N, if it is true.

USA Today reported yesterday that Barnes & Noble is removing the few comfortable chairs they used to have in stores:

On a few recent trips to my local Barnes & Noble, I noticed something odd.

The comfy chairs the store used to have were gone. At first I didn’t think much of it – or at least not until I needed a place to sit and read my prospective purchase. When I asked various store associates about the lack of seating, I was met with responses that were surprising, unsettling and worth exploring more closely.

The employees – albeit not overtly — said Barnes & Noble chose to get rid of its big, cozy chairs to prevent the homeless from loitering in its stores. While they never used the term “homeless,” the employees instead referred to these loiterers as “undesirables,” or even “smelly people.”

At first glance, this story set off my BS detector. The source, location, and other details are unverified, and my experience with B&N’s stores (which never had many chairs to begin with) and when I worked retail (I invented justifications for inexplicable policies) lead me to doubt the accuracy of this report.

And the comment over at The Passive Voice that "the chairs usually go about a year to nine months before the store is closed down" offered a plausible alternative. In fact, I was so sure that this was a non-story that I even sent this to B&N so they could do damage control on a bogus story.

I’m still waiting for B&N to respond, but as the afternoon wore on the story has become more and more plausible.

A couple anecdotes have come in that concur with the original story. For example, another B&N customer inferred the same conclusion as the USA Today reporter. From TPV:

This happened in my town also. Though it was not confirmed by an employee, I put two and two together. Homeless people would spend time and sleep in the store, and now the comfy chairs are gone.

And based on the report from an author who had a book signing at B&N, this was not a minor issue in certain stores:

We were assigned an area where chairs and a couch surrounded a coffee table on which my books were on display. My group included a man who had decided to sleep on the couch. As I did a little talk about the novel and answered questions, this man would interrupt again and again, telling us to shut up. Clearly we were in his way and disturbed his sleep. I asked a sales person what could be done and was told, “Nothing,” since the homeless could not be asked to move to another spot.

So at this point it looks like the story is, if not true, at least plausible.

What do you think?

(h\t The Passive Voice)

image by JeepersMedia

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George August 26, 2015 um 3:40 pm

I thought it was so the people who go into B&N to look at books and then use B&N’s free wifi to order the books on Amazon would be forced to sit in uncomfortable chairs while doing so.

Chris Meadows August 26, 2015 um 4:34 pm

For what it’s worth, the Indiana Convention Center, where Gen Con is held every year, used to have banks of coin-op lockers where people (who got there early enough to snag one) could put their stuff while they were doing stuff. A few years back they vanished. Stories vary as to why—one explanation is that they were deemed a potential security threat with the President about to be in town—but one of the explanations is that Indianapolis’s ever-present homeless had taken to using them as their own personal storage space, making it hard for event attendees to make use of them. I don’t know how much credence to give which explanation, but it’s certainly a possibility.

Nate Hoffelder August 26, 2015 um 4:53 pm

And that’s the problem with stories like this. There are always innocuous and plausible alternate explanations.

No one wants the bad publicity, so any company that makes a move like this also takes steps to cover their ass.

Matt Blind August 26, 2015 um 6:57 pm

This is true, and has been for at least 10 years. There isn’t a corporate policy to get rid of all the really comfy chairs, but individual store managers can clear it with their district manager to address the issue on the local level. If homeless people are using your building, the chairs will be on their way out.

If nothing else, folks should try to imagine how a cloth upholstered chair will fair after _daily_ use by multiple people who do not have access to proper bathing and laundry facilities. The chair can be cleaned once, or twice, but when even a steam cleaning doesn’t get the homeless funk out, the chair is trashed anyway — the decision at that point is not whether to get rid of the chair, but whether or not to replace it.

At the Atlanta B&N I worked at, we got rid of all but two chairs in way back in 2004. (Those last two were leather, not cloth, and were also out by 2006.) This did nothing to discourage the homeless, of course.

Nate Hoffelder August 26, 2015 um 7:52 pm

Okay, that would explain why I’ve never seen a B&N store with very many chairs.


Reader August 26, 2015 um 9:47 pm

The B&N nearest me has a fair amount of chairs- though I suspect fewer than before. As it is 10 miles from where the homeless hang out downtown, they aren’t an issue for the store.

Gary August 26, 2015 um 9:52 pm

This is only a corporate example of a general trend. You can see the same idea in the installation of park benches that are too short to sleep on, or that have (an) extra arm-rest(s) in the center of the bench so that you can’t lie down on the bench. There is also a trend to embed metal spikes in the concrete under elevated structures or in alcoves.

Do a google search for anti-homeless and look at the pictures.

Nate Hoffelder August 26, 2015 um 10:30 pm

I’m not sure it’s fair to B&N to compare its actions to the benches and other steps taken to drive the homeless away. B&N is a private business, not a public entity.

Steve Vernon August 27, 2015 um 6:16 am

Another factor to consider is shelf space. At the end of the day a bookstore – or indeed, ANY store – is nothing more than a big old box for merchandise. If I am a store owner and I have to choose between one more set of shelves or a couple of comfy armchairs I am apt to follow financial logic.

Comes right down to it – bookstores want folks to come in, buy a book, leave some money and go away.


Janet Heyob August 27, 2015 um 11:21 am

I’m with you, Clint. I was in a Half-Price Books last week; they had no chairs and no coffee. So what did we do? Walked around, looked at a lot of books, previewed our selections while standing. When we got tired of standing, we bought our stuff and left. Then we went somewhere else, drank coffee and read. 🙂

Thomas August 27, 2015 um 1:39 pm

I think they removed them from the local store to make room for the new racks of vinyl albums. They’re trying to be the "Everything (Obsolete) Store."

Heather August 27, 2015 um 2:13 pm

I’m not sure why the man sleeping on the couch in a private business could not be asked to move, but I would think he certainly could be asked not to sleep. Most libraries, including the one where I work, have a rule against sleeping in the building. We ask people to wake up. If they do not stay awake, they are asked to leave. This applies to everyone, so we are not targeting the homeless only.

Joenis Soule August 28, 2015 um 7:12 pm

Speaking as someone who worked a part-time job at B&N for 8 years: good.

We hardly ever had homeless at my store and the one who came in were no trouble. To me, the trouble makers were the ones who would come in, lounge all night, and then leave stacks of stray books at closing. People who do that are inconsiderate assholes.

D Howe August 13, 2016 um 6:10 pm

well im on the WEST SIDE of des moines. theres no HOMELESS issue here…ever. and also NO CHAIRS!

personally im irritated by this. hanging out at B&N used to be my weekend thing and it was NOTHING for me to drop easily 3500.00 a year in book purchases MAINLY BECAUSE I DONT want to wait for AZ to deliver…

so here’s the question to the bright boys of the b&n marketing and PR departments.

is losing my 3500 worth taking out 100 chair? because I was just there last night and left after only 30 minutes because my legs hurt from standing I know im not the only one… have you seen the AGE of the typical B&N shopper?


im saddened by this for many reasons but mainly because its going to drive B&n to close tons of stores due to declining sales and it needn’t happen…

WAKE UP! save your company and embrace your customers NEEDS.

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