Six years after closing their doors, the story of a potential reopening of the Bay Plaza Mall Barnes & Noble is a mystery for Bronx bookworms.
Buoyed by previous fervent community support calling for the bookstore’s reopening, organizers behind the reopening said that Barnes & Noble officials promised a reopening 36 months after its 2016 closure. But the building remains vacant, and residents are concerned without another general-interest bookstore available in the Bronx, a borough with declining literacy rates and inaccessibility to libraries could face further systematic challenges.
A change.org petition to reopen the former 290 Baychester Ave. bookstore, started by Bronx natives Jaeydon McBayne and Hadiyah Braithwaite, has generated more than 600 signatures in its first week.
“The Bronx has the lowest literacy rate of the five boroughs, with nearly 70 percent of third-grade students in the South Bronx reading below their grade level. Many talented and legendary writers lived in and found their inspiration here in The Bronx: Edgar Allan Poe, James Baldwin, and Stan Lee just to name a few,” writes Braithwaite in the petition. “The lack of an accessible place for Bronx residents to acquire a wide range of novels, textbooks, test prep guides, and children’s books can make it more difficult for the community to uplift and inspire the next generation of children to reach such heights.”
Barnes & Noble officials told the Bronx Times they closed the bookstore due to “a period of decline” which led to its acquisition by the hedge fund Elliott Advisors for $638 million. However, rising book sales had led a revamped Barnes & Noble to explore the opening of 20 stores — 10 new stores opened last year and 10 are under construction — and said there is strong motivation to open a Bronx-bound bookstore in the future.
Sam Shalem, chairman and chief executive officer at Prestige Properties — owner of the Bay Plaza Shopping Center — told the Times that Barnes & Noble is still on the building’s lease, but conversations haven’t involved a bookstore reopening. The bookstore was the borough’s only general-interest bookstore when it opened in 1999.
Every borough besides the Bronx has at least one Barnes & Noble branch, with Manhattan being home to four that are currently open. Barnes & Noble has multiple branches in Westchester County that Bronx residents state are inconvenient to commute to.
“The love that The Bronx has for our Barnes & Noble has never gone away, and this is our time to use that passion for real change,” Braithwaite states.
Barnes & Noble officials said they are canvassing for suggestions of potential locations for a Bronx-based bookstore and asks that suggestions be sent to email@example.com, marked “The Bronx”.
Update: James Daunt, CEO of Barnes & Noble, emailed Hadiyah Braithwaite on Tuesday to confirm that the petition had been “very well received” and as talks and agreements for new stores in other boroughs are soon to be concluded, a future Bronx storefront is in the works.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.