Barnes & Noble closes next week

Barnes & Noble closes next week
Photo by Gabriel Rom
By Gabriel Rom

Jennifer Hudson-Phillips stood by the entrance of the Forest Hills Barnes & Noble, which closes next Thursday and picked up a book. She examined it as if she was testing the ripeness of a vegetable or fruit.

“Now what’s this?” she said to no one in particular.

“‘The Art of Decluttering.’ Oh, do I need that.”

Hudson-Phillips was browsing the store’s “staff picks” shelf and opened up another book.

“I didn’t know Mindy Kaling had a new book out,” she said. “I need this, but I don’t feel like buying it today. That’s the wonderful thing here, you just don’t know what you will find.”

That leisurely, noncommittal attitude is what many bibliophiles say they will miss most as another brick-and-mortar bookstore shutters. The Barnes & Noble at Bay Terrace is set to close sometime in the new year.

The closure leaves Forest Hills without any remaining bookstores—independent or otherwise—and comes on the heels of three other Barnes & Noble closures in New York since 2011, reducing the city’s total from 16 to 12 over the period. The chain has closed more than 70 stores around the country in the last five years and plans to close 10 more in the coming year.

“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.”

For over a year the bookstore has been in a public struggle to reach an agreement on its lease with Muss Development, landlord of the Forest Hills building. 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 6,000 signatures, 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. The effort gained momentum, garnering public support from Koslowitz and Borough President Melinda Katz.

That campaign was ultimately unsuccessful and, as the store prepares to close, the shelves are bare and customers murmur about what the space will look like when occupied by Target.

“It looks kind of sad right now,” said Jennifer Flagg, who visits the store every time she comes to the neighborhood. “I can’t imagine a Target here. There is just no space.”

Yet even as the store folds up, in a secluded nook on the second floor a group of men sat in lounging chairs, heads down, engrossed in their books.

Back by the cash registers, where there was no line, Hudson-Phillips smiled.

“A good book is just…” she took one off the shelf at random and pressed it to her chest. “That paper in your hand, you can’t beat it.”

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