Thursday, July 14, 2016

Barnes & Noble: Books, Bars, and ... Booze?

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Barnes and Noble recently announced that it was not only going to revamp the look and menu at its cafes, but will also serve wine and beer. The changes will be offered in limited locations, at least to start: The first store will open in Eastchester, NY in October and will reportedly have a bocce court and a fire pit. Three more BN’s with bars are set to open at the Edina Galleria in Edina, MN; the Palladio in Folsom, CA; and at One Loudon in Loudon, VA. 

Of course, bookstores and bars, as well as writers and bars, have been a mainstay for years. Here’s my own personal favorite, Spotty Dog Books and Ale in Hudson, NY.

A quick Google search reveals more library bars/bookshop bars all over the country: White Horse Trading Company in Seattle, WA; Book Bar in Denver, CO; Books and Brews in Indianapolis; Elements: Books Coffee Beer in Biddeford, ME. (Julia, have you ever been?)

Will this bold move by BN help it compete with Amazon? Will it affect its stock price? Will at attract more customers and take in more revenue? Bottom line — will it help the chain bookstore survive and not go the way of the late Borders? Personal bottom line: will a glass or two at the café persuade you to buy more books than you normally would?

We can only wait and see, and perhaps enjoy a glass of wine before we shop.

Reds, do you like the idea of bookstores with bars? What do you think of this move by BN? Would you be more likely to go to a bookstore with a bar? Go more often? Buy more books? 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Wine and books sounds like heaven to me. But then--does it? I only drink wine at night. Do I go to bookstores at night ? Well, yes, if there's a signing or an appearance. If so, yes to wine. Big time. Would I meet a pal at a bookstore if there was wine? Yes, but I'd do that anyway, and it's usually more of a time for coffee.  But I am all about this experiment! Anything that can get people into bookstores. All good. 

RHYS BOWEN: Wine is often served at signings I do at independent bookstores. It's a nice touch and makes things more festive. Like Hank, I am ambivalent about Barnes and Noble serving wine. I can't see anything against it but it wouldn't lure me into a bookstore if I hadn't set out to buy a book. I'd certainly appreciate a glass if I came to do a signing. I'm all in favor of anything that makes the bookstore feel like a central gathering place. It may well lower inhibitions and make people buy more books. However, as someone who was brought up to treat books with care, I am already horrified when I see people in Barnes and Noble drinking coffee and eating cake while looking at books they haven't yet purchased. Wouldn't wine make things even more sloppy? And they might start serving nachos with the wine...

HALLIE EPHRON: There's already more nonbooks than books in my local B&N. Between the coffee bar, the toys, the stationery, pens, and calendars etc... I won't be surprised if they start hosting our local farmer's market in the cookbook section. But I want them to survive, so whatever it takes.  

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I haven't even heard of Coffee, Beer and Books, which is surprising, since I live not far from Biddeford.
I'll have to check it out. To me, the problem with the "beer or wine served in a bookstore" concept is that reading books is a solitary activity, while drinking is sociable. Not that I won't have a glass of wine while reading a book at home, but if I go out for a drink, I'm meeting up with friends. And if I'm with friends, I want to be talking, not have my nose stuck in a book. On the converse, if I'm going to the bookstore, I don't want to get too chatty; I want to browse and find a good read. Also? I don't want my friend who only reads Russian novels or Dan DeLillo giving me the eye when I pick up KILT DEAD or ARSENIC AND AUSTEN.

I am, however, wholeheartedly in favor of alcohol at book signings! The best book launch I ever had was when my local Longfellow Books set up inside a great Irish Pub and I did my talk in the upstairs section. My publisher provided two drink tickets for every attendee. We sold SO MANY books to the happily inebriated crowd...

LUCY BURDETTE: I always bring wine and cake to a book launch event. Maybe it draws a few more people than might have thought about coming? But I'm dubious about how wine will help Barnes and Noble. It certainly wouldn't help me at the grocery store--I have a hard enough time remembering my list! 

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: OK, personal story here — Noel and I ended up at a Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side after our first date — a date that was, honestly, not going so well — and a glass of wine might have helped! And so, personally, I think it might make B&N more of a date destination, as well as helping book lovers connect. At any rate, I wish B&N luck!

Lovely readers, what do you think of Barnes & Noble's new plan for bars at their bookstores? Have you ever been to a bookstore/bar? If so, what do you think? Please tell us in the comments!


  1. While I’ve never been in a bookstore/bar, I think a glass of wine at an evening book event sounds quite delightful. I can even appreciate the coffee bar in the corner of the Barnes and Noble since I never met a cup of coffee that I didn’t love. And although I’m somewhat ambivalent about adding the beer and wine bar in the corner, I see more relevance for that than for the bocce court and the fire pit . . . just the thought make me cringe.

    Barnes and Noble is the only bookshop anywhere close to me, so I do enjoy wandering through it whenever I have the chance. I’ve had a Nook since they first appeared in the bookstore, but the company recently revamped its online merchandise and, in an effort to refocus on its primary business . . . books . . . they discontinued offering apps, games, or videos for their Nooks.
    And now the revamping of the stores.
    I sincerely hope it’s not a last-ditch effort to keep the bookstores open . . . .

  2. Our Joseph Beth bookstore here in Cincinnati has always served wine, beer, coffee, and three meal menus a day, in the wonderful Bronte Cafe that is part of it. The store is huge, and includes a children's book store as big as many toy stores.

    Naturally, Bronte's is a favorite place for book club meetings, but lots of other reasons, as well. It's my favorite book store.

  3. For my last book launch at Brookline Booksmith (Yay!) we served pink chmpagne. To go with the pink pearls. It vanished quickly.

  4. And here's the question: Red or white? I remember Kate at Kate's Mystery Books asking me to bring white wine only to my book launch. To avoid stains with the inevitable spills.

  5. Books and wine! Great idea. There's a lovely cafe in Portsmouth, NH, Book & Bar, with shelves of used books for sale, great food, and beer and wine. I've been meaning to see if I can do a book event there.

    But yes, Hallie - white wine only away from home (unless at a restaurant)! This is my Personal Rule #8: I'm only allowed to drink clear/white liquids at parties. If I have a glass of red in my hand, it's surely going to end up on me, you, or that white couch.

  6. Karen, I could definitely see the bookclub-in-a-bar being popular! And hey, all those book club members gotta buy a book, right? I bet the discussions could get really interesting....

    Once upon a long time ago, there was a great little used bookstore/cafe in Colorado Springs--soup and a sandwich and something to read if you were alone or something to talk about (books!) if you were with someone.

  7. Interesting concept, and I see no reason not to do it.

    I haven't been in B&N in years, being very irritated at all big chains that drove many indie bookstores out of business. I admit to amusement when they in turn began to fall to Amazon. What comes around goes around.

    If I were the proprietor of an independent bookstore, I'd jump right on this wagon. You don't need to serve a fine wine. A decent plonk will do. I agree with white, not red, because spills will happen. For me and most of the people I know, this would be a definite draw. Here most hair salons, nail places, etc., are offering wine, infusion waters, and a variety of other drinks for the "spa" experience. And this isn't limited to the up market places. It is gratis of course.

    I don't think Amazon has a lot of competitors for what it does. It is made to order for those who use e-readers and want instant gratification. This isn't limited to bookless millennials. Those of us with limits on mobility shop there too. It has a niche in the marketplace and doesn't need to offer wine.

    I liken B&N to Sears, can get most of what you want there unless you're into Krishnamurti or Coco Chanel. Independent bookstores are where you find treasures, a shopkeeper with knowledge who will help you find something new, a special ambiance unlike any other, and, I hope, a comfy chair and a comfy drink.

    I hope there will continue to be room for all, but I worry for the small stores. In the end, economy of scale tends to win out.

  8. Ann, I am with you on Amazon being a go-to for those of us who have limitations-- no way could have I lifted the box that the rocking chair came in to bring it home in my car, but leaned up against the garage door by the delivery person, easy to open, easy to slide the chair out. Also I have vision problems that limit my driving range. Amazon is so much more than books for me. It is this driving limitation that keeps me from visiting what used to be my favorite independent book store -- it's just too far for these old eyes.

    As to cafes and wine/beer bars in book stores, I like the idea, especially when incorporating book clubs, writing circles, poetry groups.

    With the frigid temperature my local B&N was yesterday, a hot toddy would have rapidly turned into a Popsicle! Fortunately, given the temperature, there is no cafe in this store.

  9. Just to be clear, Bronte's is a very popular restaurant, not just for bookclubs. I suspect the restaurant, bar and coffeeshop portion of the store lead to book and magazine sales, though. It's near my brother's office, and when we have lunch a couple times a year we always enjoy going there. The food is great, the price is right, and the service is excellent.

    Joseph Beth is an independent bookseller, although they have three or four locations, in a couple cities. I've been to a lot of signings there over the years, way back to the second Harry Potter release with my youngest fan girl daughter.

  10. Maybe I'm a romantic, but I'm really keen on the idea of a bookstore date, with coffee or glass of wine. What a great way to find out all about someone -- in a bookstore! -S

  11. I agree that it will probably go well with book clubs. And maybe another option for those people who currently get a cup of coffee to read their magazines, books, or meet up with friends. It makes the cafe more of a gathering space, instead of a "my blood sugar is plummeting, better get something" space on the way in/out of the store.

    But due to liquor laws in PA I don't know that I'll ever see it.

  12. Oh yes I always have wine and food at signings--but never chocolate! Or gooey cheese. Why? Too much mess potential!

  13. I love the idea of wine at B&N. The only bookstore in my suburb is Half Price Books (would be thrilled if they served wine, too, but alas not even a cafe...) Anyway, when I go into the city it's a big treat for me to stop and B&N on the way home. I'll get coffee or tea and browse (and pick up my UK home and gardening magazines.) A glass of wine would be even better, and would make it inviting to sit and write for an hour two. Would that sell books? Maybe. I think anything that gets people in the store sells more books, and I do NOT want to see B&N go the way of Borders.

  14. I always serve champagne at my book launches, as well as appropriate food of the non gooey variety. And no red wine in a bookstore!
    I try and find food to go with the book. My upcoming Crowned and Dangerous is set in Ireland. Guinness? bailey's? Dubliner cheddar? And Rob at Poisoned Pen might make his soda bread. Yay!

  15. I'm loving this website and these discussions.

    Well, hmmm. If there's money to be made throwing everything into the mix, to the point that books become a quaint backdrop, then why not add some bartop dancers and nipple tassels?

    Barnes & Noble and alcohol, total gimmick.

    But an indie like Spotty Dog Books & Ale, I'd hop a plane in a heartbeat and go if I could. I love it. It makes sense. It's a reach (and then some) for a huge corporate indie wannabe to do this. But for a true indie, you can't get more grassroots and humble than serving up ale alongside books.

    The key is branding. It has to make sense. Wine and spirits at Barnes & Noble makes absolutely no sense. It's like the local grocery store here in Redding that suddenly acquired a beer and wine license and now serves alcohol in the food court. I still don't want to eat there, and the allure of a glass of pinot noir doesn't make one dang difference — unless it's free.

    So, liquor me up at an indie, but it seems silly anywhere else. :o))

    Carla DeLauder

  16. Susan,

    A bookstore /cafe date sounds great! Despite your first date, you still married him so it looks like it turned out well, right?

    Love this discussion! There was a small restaurant inside a bookstore in Berkeley, CA in the 1980s. Now it is an Indian restaurant. Loved that bookstore. Forgot the name of the bookstore. Lots of interesting books, including mysteries.

    White wine sounds good. At B&N, I buy the book first before I eat or drink anything. I think it would be rude of me to read and eat Before paying anything. If I spilled food or drink in the book and I did not pay for it first, I would be embarrassed!


    Bailey's Irish coffee? Irish shortbread? Hope to make it to one of your book events!


  17. I like the idea of wine at any bookstore. Not sure what that says about me. . .
    Our local indie, Murder by the Book, offers wine for authors' talks and signings. That is always enjoyable. Of course that is just for events. They don't have a wine stand in the store to sell drinks.

  18. I think it's a wonderful idea and I hope it works. I recently did a SinC signing at a Barnes & Noble in Sarasota, the place was packed (not necessarily for us, just in general-it was a Saturday) and I was thrilled to see the crush of people, and especially eager reader children. Last Saturday I was in a B&N in Fort Myers. Just the opposite story. It was so slow, they only had one sales person on the floor. If wine helps that store--heck I'll pour.

  19. I need to go to Rhys and Hallie's book signings🍷I think it is a great idea to serve wine at book signings where the author reads from her latest book. At my book club meetings we always serve wine or mimosas (we have a potluck brunch or lunch every month). I'm not sure if it would bring in more every day business though.😕

  20. I don't drink, so wouldn't make a difference to me.

    We Have a Barnes & Noble about 25 minutes from here - before that we had BooksAmillion and they had a mini cafe, coffee, tea, hot choc, etc and usually muffins, small baked goods.
    few tables and chairs and few comfy chairs..made me think I was in a library with a coffee bar.
    People reading books, they are Maybe going to buy, or just sit there all day and read the book, put it back on shelf, or go back next day and finish it. I think having the coffee bar probably made them money with all the "cafe" sales, but, I'm wondering did it outweigh the loss of book sales from some people treating it like a library ???