Friday, April 04, 2008

Chelsea Barnes and Noble closed

From above the main building entrance, a picture of the now-extinct Chelsea Barnes & Noble at 675 Sixth Avenue is next to the sign advertising the retail space.

By happenstance today, I took the F train to the 6th Ave 23rd St station and decided to stop in at the Barnes & Noble - my Barnes & Noble - before going home, something I've done often. I had recently seen the sign advertising the space as available for rent, but I had no idea that the store was closing so soon. I was shocked by the familiar window walls, recently filled with displays of books and CDs and enticing views into the store, now blocked with paper with signs saying the store had closed for good on March 31st.

When it opened in 1993-1994 with fresh confidence and promise, the Chelsea Barnes & Noble was a revolutionary development - spacious and modern in a beautiful architectural space, user-friendly and inviting (plush sofas), the cultural flagship of a neighborhood retail revival. I was a teenager and the store became a quiet and calming oasis during an otherwise anxious, tumultuous period of my life, just far enough away from home so it was in an altogether different neighborhood, yet close enough for me to walk to and from it easily. Going to the Barnes & Noble was a relief and I spent many days there. I strongly associate the Chelsea B & N with a historical period. It opened when I was recently moved into Chelsea and the then-new Stuyvesant. The American economy was riding the high. The Cold War was over and a Fukuyama 'end to history' seemed plausible. New York City was undergoing a renaissance with Mayor Giuliani. The store seemed to represent the optimism, competence, and ambition of the time.

When the Chelsea Barnes & Noble opened, it was criticized as a corporate giant using its greater resources aggressively to take over a market established by small businesses. But the Chelsea Barnes & Noble developed its own neighborhood identity, different than any other Barnes & Noble store. It just felt comfortable and reliable, like a fixture in the community. It worked. Now, the demise of the Chelsea Barnes & Noble feels like the loss of a big part of my youth and young adulthood and the end of an era once filled with great promise. It's gone for good and I didn't get to say good-bye.




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