Barnes & Noble to leave Queens

By Gabriel Rom

Barnes & Noble’s is leaving Queens. The retail book giant announced this week that it will be closing its two remaining Queens locations at Bay Terrace Shopping Center and Forest Hills.

“Despite our best efforts to secure lease extensions at both our Forest Hills and Bayside Barnes & Noble locations, the respective property owners decided to lease to other tenants,” said David Deason, vice president of Barnes & Noble Development.

“With Forest Hills, we communicated that we were willing to increase the rent and had an initial agreement with the property owners, who in turn did not live up to that agreement,” Deason said.

Target, the discount giant, will take up the entire two-level, 21,000-square-foot building currently occupied by Barnes & Noble in a 15-year lease, according to Muss Development, landlord of the Forest Hills building. The Target store will open sometime in mid-2016.

“Barnes & Noble had a five-year option to extend its lease, which they chose not to exercise,” said Muss Development COO Jeff Kay. “Ownership has consistently said that they wanted to arrange a long-term commitment at the property. Unfortunately, Barnes & Noble wasn’t able to do that and we subsequently negotiated a market rate lease with Target on a long-term contract.”

The closure leaves Forest Hills without any remaining bookstores.

“I can’t do anything about this. This is a private entity and I’ve got no jurisdiction,” Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said. “But is it a shame? It’s an absolute shame. I like to hold books in my hand.”

Often seen as a corporate behemoth putting mom-and-pop stores out of business, Barnes & Noble has over the past year taken on the somewhat surprising role of community underdog in Forest Hills.

For over a year, the bookstore has been in a public struggle to reach an agreement on its lease with Muss. As a result, a grassroots campaign developed to save the store. An online petition addressed to Muss, New York elected officials, and Barnes & Noble itself garnered more than 5,000 signatures with supporters calling the store a “community cornerstone.”

Michael Pearlman, a historian in the neighborhood and author of “Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park,” even organized a “buy-in” in May where community members were encouraged to peruse the store and purchase as many books as possible in order to help its financial situation.

Deason promised that the book giant would someday return to the borough.

“The Queens community is extremely important to us and as a result we are aggressively looking at new locations and expect to have a new store there in the future,” he said.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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