Sunday, November 08, 2009

on the closing of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Bookseller

One of the joys of my childhood was going to Tanglewood Mall on a Saturday afternoon and checking out what was new at Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Bookseller. It’s hard to remember in a post-superstore and internet world how good these stores were, but they actually were decent stores with good selections in their heyday. They were at least as good as a typical Barnes & Noble and Borders, just smaller and lacking the chairs and coffee.

IMO what killed them was the shifting of corporate focus by their parent companies. After Barnes & Noble and Borders took of in the ’90s, both B. Dalton and Waldenbooks became de-facto outlets for their corporate families and started filling the fronts of their stores with worthless bargain book sections: poorly conceived clearance aisles filled with low quality books that should never have been published in the first place. The over-abundance of loss leaders shrunk the traditional book selections to a shadow of their former selves and ruined the two chains’ reputations as sources for quality books.

Even though Barnes & Noble corporate eventually saw the light and integrated the Barnes & Noble search and order capabilities into their B.Dalton mall stores, Borders corporate steadfastly refused to bring Waldenbooks in line with Borders search and order capabilities until Waldenbooks got so small they couldn’t support their own system.

It doesn’t take a retail genius to figure out that the companies were de-emphasizing the mall stores in favor of a larger, more profitable format and that the reduced selection of a modern Waldenbooks and B.Dalton would eventually make they easy to dispose of if the mall business never recovered (and it hasn’t so far).

It’s sad to think of how many small and medium sized cities will now have no new general-interest bookstore thanks to B. Dalton and Waldenbooks’ closures. Danville, Va. and Bluefield, W.Va. immediately come to mind: somewhat isolated cities that don’t have enough college-educated customers to be considered for a book superstore but yet have enough population to support one. Cities like these will be solely at the mercy of Walmart and the like, which only stock books they figure will sell to a mainstream audience and little else.

This is an embarrassing and depressing situation. Why should people in typically sized American cites have to travel 60 miles or more just to buy a non-New York Times bestseller book in person? I just hope that a company like Books-A-Million will step up and bring some essential choice and selection back to these towns.


  1. Great post. This is a very unfortunate situation, although as you mentioned, has been a long time coming. I do feel for the book buying residents of moderately sized cities whose only choices for marginal-at-best books will now be Walmart (gags.)
    I wonder which chain will be the next to go, or at least drastically downsize? Dillard's, Pier 1, Talbots come to mind...

  2. Dillard's, Pier 1, Talbots, Chico's...I think they're all in need of "right sizing"

  3. Like I've mentioned in other blogs, this whole situation is breaking my heart. The shopping world is becoming much more insular (on-line, one-stop shopping like at Traget or Wal-Mart, ick!).

    I've used to enjoy (past tense) going out for a day of shopping, window or otherwise. Where can one stroll and enjoy a day with these delights, outside of Manhattan?

    Gone are my Bullock's, Robinson's, Buffum's, The Broadway, The May Company, Long's, downtown independent bookstores, I could go on an on.

    Steve, do you remember the tea rooms or cafes or restaurants on the top floors of these lovely stores? I do. That's where I would end a fruitful day of shopping or browsing.

    Well, we'll always have our nice memories. Great entry, again!

  4. I missed out on a lot of the old in-store restaurants, though I still go to the ones at Nordstrom, Neiman-Marcus and Bloomingdale's whenever I can. In my region, all of our malls used to have cafeterias, which offered some of the same ambiance.

  5. Thta;s some true stuff right there. I used to love those old bookstores in the mall. The mall by me used to have 3 of them and now only has 1.
    By the way, man, saw your latest post at Treessel's World. That was hilarious stuff.

    Here's a little rap I wrote for you-

    I be illin and chillin
    I;m cooler than Cool Papa Bel

    That fuckin' baseballer
    Hey Swain, pass me the shot caller

  6. Growing up, I too loved hitting these small book stores in the mall. Imagine all of the small independent book stores in NYC forced to shut down to 3-block-sized Barnes & Nobles where you could get your Starbucks AND book - one stop shopping! Also remember Tower Records? Suddenly we had I think it was called in the mid '90s. Great post!

  7. Things change...but not always for the better. Whatever happened to