Barnes and Noble recently announced its 55,000-square-foot bookstore on the Upper East Side, a fixture in the neighborhood for years, will not reopen, even as the city launches into Phase 3.
In an exclusive interview with NY1's Karina Mitchell, CEO James Daunt reveals what prompted the closure, and why the chain is well-positioned to survive and thrive post pandemic.
While Barnes & Noble has reopened locations in other parts of the city, including in Union Square and on the Upper West Side, Daunt says the Upper East Side closing came as a surprise.
"This wasn't a store we had expected to close," Daunt toll Mitchell. "But we got an offer from another retailer who wanted to use it, and it allowed us to exit something that wasn't really working for us."
What didn't work for the bookseller did work for retail giant Target. The ample area with a basement is ideal for Target as it continues to expand its footprint of small format stores. The 20-year lease at the Upper East Side location happens in conjunction with snapping up another location near Columbus Circle on Manhattan's west side.
Daunt, who assumed the reins in the second half of 2019, favors a fresher, more modern approach with smaller stores possessing architectural interest and natural light. The model is being used in two recently opened stores in Florida and Illinois.
The C-suite leader with more than three decades of experience in the book space says Barnes & Noble, along with other book businesses, must continue to re-invent themselves, which includes adapting to consumer needs and re-investing in outdated stores. Daunt says the chain must now start doing that.
More broadly, he admits Barnes & Noble has not emerged unscathed from the pandemic lockdown. Its physical stores have taken a hit financially due to the virus, but he downplays the notion that the demise of brick and mortar bookstores is inevitable, even as online sales surge and consumers adopt new shopping habits.
"Bookstores, I think, have every reason to be optimistic," said Daunt. "One - they've been competing with the online channel for many, many years. After all, Amazon was set up as a bookseller."
"The pandemic is going to be a blip," he went on to say. "We will return to some sort of normality. One of the features of this is that people are reading more. They are finding solace in books. They are finding interest in books, engagement in books, So, actually, what we are selling as booksellers has renewed relevance. And I think that there will be a growth in book sales over this period and that is likely to be sustained."
Meanwhile, as the chain forges ahead, Daunt says he is invested in finding the right store on the Upper East Side, and is bullish on books, saying the chain is one of the few retailers that can look to the future with confidence.