I recently learned that my local Books-A-Million store is closing down, which, as a book lover, kinda sucks for me. No reason was given, but you don’t need an MBA to deduce what killed off this particular store.
For a long time, B-A-M was the only book retailer in town. About 5 years ago, a local developer purchased a large tract of land smack dab in the middle of the city and built an upscale shopping center. One of the keystone stores in that development is a Barnes & Noble. And so began the long, slow demise of B-A-M in my town. But don’t assume that B-A-M was just a victim of circumstances beyond their control.
I was listening to a business podcast this morning and the host mentioned the death of the brick & mortar bookstore in America. He offhandedly blamed eBooks and Amazon. And while he’s correct that those are major factors, I don’t believe either of those were the primary reason our B-A-M is closing.
And let me say, I’ve got some blood on my hands here. Barnes & Noble is about two miles closer to my home and the shopping center where it resides offers a bunch of other stores and restaurants my family frequents. The B-A-M sits adjacent to an old 70’s era mall that has been dying on the vine since before we moved here in 1996. It was the kind of mall whose primary (and most numerous) patrons appeared to be power-walking 75 year olds. So there wasn’t a whole lot of business for B-A-M feeding off from there.
I’ve spent exponentially more money at B&N and Amazon.com than I have at B-A-M in the last few years. I’ve probably mentioned my love affair with Amazon Prime and it’s associated free two-day shipping. In the time it takes to think, “Hey, I should run by the bookstore after work one night and pick up <fill-in-the-blank>”, I can jump on my Amazon app and have it ordered up. If the item I order comes from one of Amazon’s nearby fulfillment centers, I often get it the next day! Plus, let’s face it, Amazon is generally cheaper than retail and I don’t have to pay sales tax (until April 15th–Thanks Alabama’s Consumer Use Tax).
Two things about the local B-A-M kept me coming back though. One was the incredible magazine selection. I’d say they have (had?) at least four times the titles carried by B&N. Something like 200 feet of periodicals, many of them on niche topics too obscure to get included in B&N’s limited magazine display.
The second factor (for me) is/was B-A-M’s superior Military History section. I’m sorry B&N, but yours sucks. B-A-M devotes an entire aisle to the subject whereas B&N has fewer books than my own (even post-fire) modest library.
But even with those advantages for me personally, my wife and I would often comment on how dead B-A-M would be on any given Saturday morning. Some days, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tumbleweed roll by or find a dusty skeleton slumped in the restroom. And their store design, while not a huge factor for me, has never been in the same ballpark as B&N’s. Even after an extensive remodel a few years ago, it was still miles behind. The lighting in my windowless dungeon office (half my fixtures don’t even work) is better than what they’re rocking in there. Whereas B&N just makes you want to hang out, have a coffee, and spend $$$, B-A-M has long reminded me of a T.J. Maxx or Wal-Mart. In other words, I get what I came for and get out.
Then there are the coupons. Or lack thereof. I wrote a long and (I thought) well-articulated e-mail to B-A-M corporate a few years ago on the topic. Response? Nada.
Back in the day, as a member of their “discount club,” I would get frequent coupons via e-mail. I still get coupons, they’re just not any good. Where B&N still sends the 20% or 30% off one item coupons at least once a month, B-A-M thinks “$5.00 off your purchase of $25.00 or more” is going to get me to come in. Can I channell Lana from Archer here? “NOPE!” However, I will make an extra trip to B&N all day long for 30% off a nice (aka expensive) hardcover. And you know what? Lana? “YUPPPPP,” I always spend more money than just the one item covered by the coupon. But, hey, what do I know.?
There’s a massive plot of commercial property a few miles from my home waiting on development. Knowing their location compared to centrally-located B&N was killing them, I’d always daydream out loud as we drove by that I’d love it if B-A-M would move there. That’s my wife’s worst nightmare vis-a-vis the family budget. It would be on my way home and I’d have a hard time driving by it. Some guys get texts at the bar, “Come home!” That’d be me in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy aisle.
But alas, it doesn’t look likely. I suppose there’s always a chance B-A-M could make a comeback in town but I’m kinda doubting it. In the end, as a book lover, the loss of another bookstore is just sad news. And I’ve even heard murmurs that our local B&N might be in some corporate bean counter’s cross-hairs. Better make sure my Amazon Prime auto-renew is working…