Philadelphia’s flagship Barnes and Noble location on 18th and Walnut streets will relocate a few blocks south to 17th and Chestnut streets, contributing to a post-pandemic retail metamorphosis in the city.
Located just east of the Schuylkill River, the present location — containing three floors of retail and an in-house Starbucks — has been a staple for Philadelphia residents for the last 25 years. The store will close in late February and the new location will open in early March, Director of Store Planning & Design Janine Flanigan told The Daily Pennsylvanian.
The Chestnut street property, while also being two floors, is a decrease in retail space from 24,000 to 19,000 square feet.
Flanigan said the choice to move locations was made ahead of their lease coming to an end. Previously housing a Forever 21 until 2019, the new location will contain new furniture designs and bookcases, and will keep the same booksellers.
After the relocation plans were announced, some Penn students shared their favorite memories of the Philadelphia flagship store with the DP.
Jamieson Wade, a College senior who grew in Philadelphia, said that the building brings him fond memories from childhood.
“I really love just spending time in that building, going up those escalators, feeling that excitement to find a new book to get lost in a new world,” Wade said. “The escalators in the Penn bookstore do not elicit that type of childish joy and curiosity.”
Wade explained that the Barnes and Noble was his default destination whenever he was searching for a book, and the sudden location change would be hard to process.
“The [bookstore] was something I [always said], ‘Well, that'll always be there.’ Even though they're gonna move it, it just feels weird to be like, ‘Oh, it's different,’” Wade said.
College sophomore Eleanor Grauke explained that because she grew up far from her middle and high school in center city, the Barnes and Noble became a “homebase” for spending time with friends. Grauke said that returning to the bookstore as a college student gives her nostalgia and makes her feel more connected to Philadelphia.
“I feel like it's not even that much of a store … you'll see people just sitting in the aisles reading books or meeting with friends — I always run into people I know there,” Grauke said. “It's just very much a reflection of Philly culture and how welcoming everyone is.”
College sophomore Lila Shermeta told the DP that she also frequented the bookstore as a high school student, and would often visit as a college student.
“A special memory in college would just be taking people that I met in college and showing them Rittenhouse and showing them the Rittenhouse [Barnes and Noble] and looking at books together,” Shermeta said. “I'm sad about it closing — I didn't realize that I would feel sad. I just feel like that's a part of my life that's ending.”
Paul Levy, president and CEO of the Center City District, spoke of the move as part of a citywide movement to take advantage of cheaper lease prices as COVID-19 wanes, and feels optimistic about the current trend, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Since 2020, retail sales in Center City have reached up to 94% of pre-pandemic levels, compared to 74% for restaurant sales, according to a Center City district retail update. Stores such as J. Crew, moving from Shops at Liberty Place to 1719 Walnut Street and Philly Runner, moving from 1601 Samson Street to 1711 Walnut, both have relocated their stores to garner better lease deals.
Flanigan explained that the Barnes and Noble move was bittersweet, but the new location would provide them the opportunity to establish a “beautiful new store” that wouldn’t have been possible in the previous location.
Despite the widespread digitization of books, Flanigan said she believes there will always be a place for bookstores and Barnes and Noble.
“It really is about the experience of the book and the book selling. You can't ever replace a bookstore and the feel and the touch [of a book] and the community and the booksellers," Flanigan said.