I’ve heard from many of you who have expressed concern for the loss of our Charlesbank bookstore in Belmont Centre, which has been owned for many years by Barnes and Nobles who acquired it as part of the acquisition of B.Dalton. I share the concern, recognizing the value that the store provides to many readers in our community and its contributions to our local economy.
I had a long conversation today with Mitchell Clipper, the Chief Operating Officer of Barnes and Noble.
In summary, he explained that their decision was final, that he could not be influenced and that the community had, in his mind, voted against the store by not patronizing it adequately over the past five years. He expressed regret, and understanding for the concerns that people had, but explained the decision as a necessary business decision.
Here are some additional specific points that he made:
- The store has been losing more and more money as sales have been declining for the past five years. Local managers do not see the whole P&L for the store and may not understand the true economics of the store. They see gross margin and payroll, but not rent and a number of other costs directly attributable to the store.
- The losses are not small. He would not disclose the specifics, although I pressed, but stated that the annual losses for this specific store are at the six figure level.
- He stated that they do not make decisions to close stores lightly and that they review each specific store to look for ways to keep it open and had done so in this case. He was specific that there was no concession for rent that could remotely be adequate to make the store profitable.
- While I pressed repeatedly, and he emphasized repeatedly, that this specific store is losing money, he did say that the losses in this store are consistent with losses in similar “small format” stores nationwide. They are keeping a few unique “small format” stores open but have been closing 30 a year for the past few years. If I heard him right, he said that this year they are closing 47 and they are down to their last 50.
- The large format bookstores are profitable — the one “down the street” in Burlington is profitable.
- He explained that the competition includes “a thing called the internet” as well as the big box retailers like Walmart and Target.
- He said he had heard from people offering to try to help the store by building business, but was adamant that the community had already voted by patronizing the store inadequately over the past few years.
- He also said he had heard boycott threats, but indicated that B&N couldn’t build its business by keeping unprofitable stores open — he and the committee of people that he works with to make these decisions have concluded that they need to redeploy the capital elsewhere.
In summary, he said “it’s over” and said specifically that there is nothing that the community can say to him that will affect his decision. It seems that if we are to have a local bookstore in Belmont, someone else is going to have to come forward to run it.