Time was, the opening of a chain store in a close-knit New York neighborhood could elicit a full-on panic, but that was the '80s and '90s in the East and West Village, and the early aughts in Williamsburg, when a bookstore was as self-evidently necessary as a video-rental place. Well, it's 2015, Barnes and Noble is reportedly getting out of the bookstore business, and Forest Hills is a far cry from Williamsburg circa 2003. Still, in a city where NIMBY activism is a pastime as fervently embraced as complaining about the subway, it's startling to see a neighborhood rally around a corporate juggernaut known for driving independent bookstores out of business. (It probably helps that there are no general-interest bookstores left in the neighborhood.)
Two weeks ago, the Daily News reported that the Austin Street Barnes and Noble will close come January. Since then, locals have mounted an online petition calling for the store to be saved, and it has garnered more than 4,000 signatures. The petition calls the store a "community cornerstone" and gushing testimonials sing its praises, including one from Natalie Shmuel of Rego Park that reads, "This bookstore has more to offer than all of our local libraries combined!"
Organizer Michael Perlman said there is no contradiction in a grassroots community drive to save a chain store.
"Barnes & Noble in Forest Hills is more than a typical chain store," he said. "Rather, it feels like a 22,000 square-foot mom and pop shop, since patrons are not treated like a number, and there are a number of superb community events for all age groups."
The store opened in 1995 and has since expanded to take up two floors. Landlord Muss Development's chief operating officer, Jeff Kay, confirmed that the bookstore's lease runs out in January but said his company would like to keep the chain there long-term. Negotiations are ongoing, but Muss is also still talking to other suitors, he said. As for the activism, he said it's food for thought.
"It is always good to know that the community really, really wants to keep Barnes & Noble in Forest Hills, and our hope is to be able to do that," Kay said.
In a statement Barnes and Nobles's vice president of development, David Deason, said the chain wants to stay where it is but has yet to reach an agreement on a new lease.
"We have been in discussions with property owners for the past several months," Deason said. "We've expressed our desire to extend our lease in Forest Hills over the long term at existing lease terms. We are waiting to hear back from the property owners."
The store apparently feels the love. It's holding a customer appreciation day on Sunday from 10 am-7 pm.
This isn't the first time literature-starved outer boroughs residents have fretted over the closure of a Barnes and Noble. Last year, Bronxites feared their Barnes and Noble, the borough's only general-interest bookstore, would shutter, but it was saved through a pressure campaign and some 11th-hour lease negotiations. If the Forest Hills location closed, the Bayside one would be the only Barnes and Noble left in Queens, where the density of bookstores has long been anemic.
Update 11:30 pm:
Quote from organizer Michael Perlman added.