Business & Real Estate

Barnes & Noble bets a kitchen can save its books

The new Barnes and Noble bookstore at the Palladio of Broadstone in Folsom features a restaurant. This new concept store, which opens Tuesday, combines an extensive bookstore with a restaurant serving a full menu with wine and beer.
The new Barnes and Noble bookstore at the Palladio of Broadstone in Folsom features a restaurant. This new concept store, which opens Tuesday, combines an extensive bookstore with a restaurant serving a full menu with wine and beer. rpench@sacbee.com

The Barnes & Noble store opening Tuesday in Folsom is a bookstore like a stealth fighter jet is an airplane.

The retailer’s prototype opening in the Palladio at Broadstone shopping complex also is a full-service restaurant featuring locally sourced beers and wines and a community gathering spot.

(Customers) can buy a book anywhere in the store, including the restaurant.

David Deason, B&N’s vice president of development,

It will be the third Barnes & Noble of its kind in the nation. The other two concept stores are just north of Manhattan Island and in Edina, Minn., a suburb southwest of Minneapolis.

Barnes & Noble is rolling out its concept stores at a time when some retail analysts are questioning the future of selling the printed word. In 2008, the New York-based chain planned to open in the upscale Palladio complex, but the plan was put on hold as the recession hit the U.S. retail industry hard.

The Barnes & Noble Kitchen seats 140 and offers an all-day menu and table service. Wine offerings include varieties produced regionally or in California. Draft beers from six local brewers are on the menu.

It was just five years ago that Borders Group, which once operated hundreds of stores offering books and music, ceased operations.

By some Wall Street estimates, Amazon has cut into Barnes & Noble’s overall market share by more than 25 percent since 2010. Analysts said the availability of bargain-priced books on Amazon and the popularity of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader have deeply impacted B&N revenue. B&N has seen annual sales revenue plunge from $7.13 billion in 2012 to $4.16 billion in the most recent fiscal year.

David Deason, B&N’s vice president of development, said the concept stores are not a response to gloomy retail predictions but “more of a step forward … a new transition. Throughout retail, (store operators) are trying to lift the experience to a new level. We understand that, and we think our customers will appreciate the experience they find here.”

During a media tour of the Folsom store last week, Deason noted that, despite all the bells and whistles of the new store, “books are the star. It’s still a bookstore.” Deason added that Barnes & Noble remains the nation’s largest retail bookseller, overseeing 640 bookstores nationwide.

Customers entering the front doors are greeted with an expansive open-floor space with a sweeping 180-degree view of book displays.

Pointing to the mounted, self-serve “kiosks” with digital display screens and store employees carrying hand-held devices, Deason noted that customers “can buy a book anywhere in the store, including the restaurant.”

The Folsom store also includes specialty sections, including a colorful children’s book area featuring ample seating, books arranged by age groups and toys.

The “Local Interests” display showcases local events and writers.

There’s also a “newsstand” stocked with scores of magazines and other periodicals, plus a section with old-school vinyl records.

Since the beginning of retail, the idea has been to get shoppers into the store, where they tend to buy something no matter what their original plan was.

Peter Schaub, a New York-based marketing and branding expert

For the restaurant/cafe/bar facilities, Barnes & Noble partnered with the international design/concept firm of AvroKO and The Branstetter Group, the Santa Monica-based hospitality management/advisory firm.

With 2,600 square feet, the Barnes & Noble Kitchen has seating for 140 –including some outdoor seating – with an all-day menu and table service. Sandwiches, dinner salads and entrees generally run from $14 to $26.

Restaurant representatives said the menu offerings feature seasonal, locally produced ingredients.

Wine by the glass or bottle includes more than 20 varieties of sparkling, white and red offerings, most produced regionally or in California. Draft beers from six local brewers are on the menu. Brewers include Sacramento’s Track 7 Brewing, Auburn Alehouse and Sudwerk Brewing in Davis.

Some retail analysts have wondered if the Barnes & Noble prototypes will inspire more lounging around than book-buying. Deason said that’s not a concern: “We want (customers) to enjoy the whole experience.”

Peter Schaub, a New York-based marketing and branding expert, also seemed unconcerned about what store visitors might do.

“Since the beginning of retail, the idea has been to get shoppers into the store, where they tend to buy something no matter what their original plan was,” Schaub said. “I’m sure other retailers would do just about anything to get shoppers into their stores like that.”

Barnes & Noble officials said the store in Folsom also will host numerous special events, including book fairs, school gatherings and book signings.

Deason stressed that the company intends to carefully study the feedback it gets from its concept store customers:

“We know we have a lot to learn, and we welcome that. We want this to be a special place … and we will work to keep improving.”

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover

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