My favorite store in the universe is closing!

As y’all know, one of my very favorite leisuretime activities is to go to Barnes & Noble, get a cup of coffee, and browse. And sometimes blog — it’s one of my favorite remote locations for that.

I’ve done this in lots of Barnes & Nobles — such as in Memphis; Myrtle Beach; New York; Florence (SC); Charleston; Harrisonburg, Va.; Camp Hill, PA — but my favorite, my essential, my default, has always been the one in Harbison.

I wrote one of my favorite early blog posts, headlined, “The Caffeine Also Rises,” at a Barnes & Noble. An excerpt from that over-stimulated ramble in 2005:

This is blogging. This is the true blogging, el blogando verdadero, con afición, the kind a man wants if he is a man. The kind that Jake and Lady Brett might have done, if they’d had wi-fi hotspots in the Montparnasse.

What brings this on is that I am writing standing up, Hemingway-style, at the counter in a cafe. But there is nothing romantic about this, which the old man would appreciate. Sort of. This isn’t his kind of cafe. It’s not a cafe he could ever have dreamed of. It’s a Starbucks in the middle of a Barnes and Noble (sorry, Rhett, but I’m out of town today, and there’s noHappy Bookseller here). About the one good and true thing that can be said in favor of being in this place at this time is that there is basically no chance of running into Gertrude Steinhere. Or Alice, either.

I’m standing because there are no electrical outlets near the tables, just here at the counter. And trying to sit on one of these high stools and type kills my shoulders. No, it’s not my wound from the Great War, just middle age….

There’s nothing like writing under the influence of your first, or second, coffee of the day. Especially back then, before I had built up resistance.

But the best of all was at the B&N at Harbison. It just had the perfect feel to it. I wrote this and this and this there.

The one at Richland Fashion Mall (or whatever it’s called now) is OK in a pinch, but not the same. Maybe it’s that there’s no video and music department; I don’t know — but I’ve never been inclined to spend much time there.

Anyway, you get the picture. So you can imagine how dismayed I am at this:


COLUMBIA, SC — Barnes and Noble on Harbison Boulevard will close at the end of the year, leaving the Irmo area without a traditional bookstore selling new books.

A manager answering the phone at the store Monday morning said she could not give details to the media. Efforts to reach a spokesperson Monday morning were not successful.

However, employees are telling customers that the store at 278-A Harbison Blvd. will close at the end of the year because its lease is not being renewed….

If I were a guy whose favorite recreation was jogging in the park, and the park got paved over, I couldn’t be more upset.

This is just wrong.

Maybe I should have bought something now and then when I was there browsing. Or maybe I shouldn’t have fallen into the habit of buying my coffee at the actual Starbucks across the parking lot before entering the store.

But surely I’m exaggerating the impact of my own behavior — right?

45 thoughts on “My favorite store in the universe is closing!

  1. Doug Ross

    Maybe you should have bought more books rather than using it as a public library. Tough business model to make money when all they are doing is distributing something that can be purchased wirelessly cheaper and faster. Hmmm… sounds like the newspaper industry. It’s not like they were providing much in the way of added value to the process.

    Meanwhile, Amazon stock went up by 10% last week following earnings results that showed their revenue was in the same ballpark as Microsoft’s for the quarter (although still without a profit).

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    In my defense, when I DO buy books, I get them from Barnes & Noble.

    And B&N gift certificates are always near the top of my wish list for birthdays, Christmas and Father’s Day — and my kids regularly buy them for me.

    Speaking of wish lists — people in my family give me pretty much every every book I want, to the extent that there’s never any occasion to buy them for myself, except when I have one of those gift certificates.

    I buy ALL books that I get for other people at B&N. And books are the gift I give the most. I buy enough books there that it’s worth it to me to get the $25 membership each year.

    So I’m not really quite as bad as I made myself out to be above. But there are many occasions on which I merely browse. I could not afford to buy books as often as I hang out there…

    1. Rose

      But do you go in the physical store to buy them or do you order them online?
      We rarely go in the store because I can find a wider variety of children’s books online (and not just from B&N). However, it is frustrating that I can’t hold the actual book and evaluate it by its contents before deciding to buy. They just don’t have a good stock in the store – and a lot of it is crappy stuff like that Captain Underpants series, or product placement “books” like Barbie and Spongebob. Blech.

      1. Rose

        Also, I could NEVER get any help in the store, especially in the children’s section. No one actually knows anything about literature. Now, when the Happy Bookseller closed, I grieved for months. Their staff actually knew about the books they carried, especially children’s literature.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          The State has the head of the independent booksellers group saying this creates an opening for small indie bookstores. I used to love one in Toco Hills in Decatur. Tiny, but loads of just right novels on display!

  3. Mark Stewart

    The thing about retail is that we live in real life. Amazon has its place, but we need physical spaces – retail establishments included. Of course, the real tell was the way less and less of the store was devoted to books, and more and more square feet went to toys, games, baubles and other assorted debris.

    I bet this is just a function of rent; Barnes and Noble will pop up in another (smaller) space sometime. Still, any time one does not have to spend visiting the Harbison corridor is time well spent…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Fighting that traffic was worth it to me, because the destination was so great.

      Besides, I had a back way to get there: Get off I26 at Piney Grove, turn right onto Bowers Parkway. Follow that around, then turn right into the alley BEHIND PetSmart. Follow it to where it connects to the lot where the bookstore is. You come out into that lot with Outback on your right. There you are. The toughest part is getting across that flow of traffic in the parking lot, right in front of Outback…

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Bower Parkway, singular, used to be a nice clean shot, but it has gotten heavily developed and frequented by people who are just not sure exaaaactly where to turn.

        I would buy books at B&N, except….the last several times I wanted to have a certain book in my hands today, they did not have it. Amazon always does, including used options, and I get it in two days, no Harbison/Malfunction Junction hassles….and I make vastly better coffee at homel I will miss the nice coffee smell, though….

    2. bud

      I’ve never been a fan of the Amazon business model. I prefer the brick and mortar way of shopping. Apparently I’m in the minority.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I can find exactly what I want, quickly; compare prices, and have delivered to my door in far less time than I used to spend driving all over town.

        But then I have specific tastes….

  4. Bryan Caskey

    Creative destruction. In 1900, the USA employed 109,000 carriage and harness makers. In 1910, 238,000 Americans worked as blacksmiths. Today, those jobs are largely obsolete.

    Companies show the same pattern of destruction and rebirth still today.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Another way Starbucks explains what it strives to be is, “A place for conversation and a sense of community.”

        And it is that. But I can converse with people anywhere. I’d rather read and write while drinking my coffee. Which you can also do at Starbucks, but when you leave books out of the reading equation, that’s a big hole to fill…

    1. Norm Ivey

      Disruptive Technologies is another term to describe it. Often, entrenched companies refuse to adapt to new technologies because their current business model is so successful. By the time they realize they must adapt, they are so woefully behind they cannot change fast enough to retain any sizable market share.

      I buy a two or three books a month, but have only purchased one hard copy in at least a year, and that only because it was an older book not available as an ebook.

  5. Bill

    Really sad.I met my best friend ever,there,and bought many books(and maps,atlases for Mike).It was often less expensive than paying Amazon’s shipping charges.The coffee was great,and I sold quite a few paintings,as well.

    1. Leon

      One thing I have never quite figured out….why buy a book when I can check it out at the library, read it, and return it without a charge?

        1. Leon

          If the book smells like cigarette smoke, I will not be checking it out from the library. I will select or request another copy of the book.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Three quick reasons to buy rather than check a book out of the library…

        One, I’m frequently allergic to old books. Unless they’ve always been kept under conditions of perfect humidity control, they can be musty, and that plays havoc with my nasal passages. Back when I lived in Jackson, TN, the library had a moisture problem, and I couldn’t even walk through the stacks without having a reaction.

        Second, I spend my waking hours mostly in Richland County. The most convenient library, for me, is the main Richland Library at Assembly and Hampton. I can go in there and browse, but I can’t check out books, because of a technicality — I sleep in Lexington County. (Some of you who are more literal-minded will say it’s because I pay residential property taxes in Lexington. But those taxes do me no good. I wish my county would send what I pay for library services to Richland, so I can check out a book occasionally.)

        Third, once I’ve read a book, I have a relationship with it for life, and I want it to be close at hand always, so I can cite it in writing or conversation, or just have the comforting pleasure of picking it up and rereading a favorite passage (I do more of that sort of reading than I do reading of new books). The last thing I want to do with a book I’ve read is give it back to someone.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          When I grew up in Aiken, Augusta would let you purchase a library card, and my parents did, thank goodness!

          1. Doug Ross

            Borrow a few books (especially ones you’d never buy like travel guides, recipe books, coffee table picture books, etc.), a few DVD’s and your $65 is covered easily. They also allow you to download (not borrow) 5 free MP3’s a week from an extensive catalog.


            Libraries are one thing government does well. I will vote for the bond referendum next week.

  6. Doug Ross

    I heard they found a new tenant for the Barnes & Noble space – it’s a store called “Geezers R Us” – they sell rotary phones, electric typewriters, calculators, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and Kodak film. The nice thing is that every customer gets the Senior Discount.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Do they have the kinds of phones without dials, where you just talk to the operator?

      I loved those.

      When I was 4 years old, we were at my great-grandmother’s house in Marion, and I picked up the phone and asked for the people who lived across the street from my grandparents in Bennettsville. I knew them as Aunt Pearl and Uncle Homer (not actually relations, though), but I knew their last name, too, so the operator connected me. And that was definitely long distance in those days.

      I was just chatting along with them when an adult caught me. I don’t recall what I was calling them about.

      Good thing I didn’t know anyone in China…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      And do they have phone books?

      A guy walked off the street the other day into ADCO and asked to use our phonebook. It was weird. We hunted around, but couldn’t find one. I offered to Google whomever he wanted.

      Here’s a question: How did we go, so suddenly, from a nation that assumed we were entitled to look up anyone’s phone number (except for the few who were unlisted) to being a culture in which we all assumed that phone numbers should be private? That’s quite a shift in mindset, and one of the few in which we’ve gone from greater transparency to greater privacy…

      1. JesseS

        “How did we go, so suddenly, from a nation that assumed we were entitled to look up anyone’s phone number (except for the few who were unlisted) to being a culture in which we all assumed that phone numbers should be private?”

        So how many of your relatives under the age of 18 happen to have phones? Should they be listed?

      1. Doug Ross

        Hipster: (noun) A person who tries to be different for no other reason than to draw attention to himself.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          I think hipsters are no different from sports fans, fraternity/sorority members or anyone else who adopts a “brand” persona or style. Hipsters genuinely think retro stuff is cool, just like Clemson fans dig orange everything, or sorority girls like curly hot pink monograms in the rear windows of their SUVs.

          1. JesseS

            No. Sports fan go the same well and go to it year after year. The hipster is the opposite of that.

            They seek out what isn’t at the trough. This is good and bad. On the good they bring up new ideas (or at least ignore old ones) that keep the mainstream from becoming stagnant.

            The downside is that they seek out the authenticity of a subculture for the sake of authenticity, not the merits of the subculture. They adopt, suck the cool out of it, mock it and then go on to something else. This creates little bubble economies that are just as destructive as they are creative.

            They give us some new stuff, but at the cost of being cultural vampires feeding off the low end (or at least annoying the low end since the process ends in mockery). It has been going on for forever, but the internet changed the nature of the game.

            Before it was white kids going to black juke joints, today it is white kids in “Heinz Porn ‘n Beans” t-shirts drinking $5 Rolling Rocks.

    3. Ralph Hightower

      Kodak film? Well, I have to go shop at that store! Right now, I have to buy all my film from New Yawk City.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    I just saw that the Harbison B&N is advertising two openings — one for “cafe server” and the other for “bookseller.”

    Normally, I’d think those were pretty cool jobs. I think it would be great to spend my whole working days there.

    But who would want those positions now?

  8. Doug Ross

    FYI, Amazon has started a new service called Matchbook which allows you to buy at a very cheap price ($1-$3) digital copies of hardcover books you have purchased in the past through Amazon. Not all books are available yet (700,000) titles but this is a great feature (and a nice little boost to the revenue stream for Amazon and book publishers). Sign in, click on a link, and it shows you a list of all your past purchases that are available for download.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That’s ALMOST a good thing.

      What SHOULD happen is that I should get free digital copies of every book I’ve ever bought a hard copy of — none of which (or almost none of which) came from Amazon.

      If I’ve paid for the content, I’ve paid for the content.

      I feel the same about music. The MP3s should be free if I’ve already bought it on vinyl. And especially if I’ve already bought it on vinyl, tape AND CD…

      1. Doug Ross

        Blame the publishers (music and books), not Amazon.

        When will The State make its archives available for free for all the years I had a subscription to the paper?

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