On Monday afternoon, Jai Cha walked out of the Barnes & Noble at 66th Street and Broadway in Manhattan as he does nearly every week — without a book.
He might have to hurry. Barnes & Noble announced on Monday that at the end of January it would close the store, a four-story space across the street from Lincoln Center that has been a neighborhood landmark since it opened nearly 15 years ago.
“We recognize that this store has been an important part of the fabric of the Upper West Side community since we opened our doors on Oct. 20, 1995,” Mary Ellen Keating, a company spokeswoman, said in a statement. “However, the current lease is at its end of term, and the increased rent that would be required to stay in the location makes it economically impossible for us to extend the lease.”
It has been a bumpy year for Barnes & Noble, the country’s largest book chain, with 720 stores. Sales and store traffic have suffered as the book business has shifted online; Amazon has held its early lead in the e-reader war; and early this month, Barnes & Noble put itself up for sale and is now in the midst of a battle for control of the company with Ronald W. Burkle, the billionaire investor.
People browsing at the Lincoln Center store on Monday lamented the loss of one of the city’s largest and most prominent bookstores, a sprawling space with a cafe on the fourth floor and an enormous music selection. For devoted theatergoers, it was a reliable site for readings and events that focused on the performing arts. (Still on the fall schedule are appearances by Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige.)
But many of those same people conceded that they have not bought as many books there as they did in the past. Some said they were more likely to browse the shelves, then head home and make purchases online. Others said they prized the store most for its sunny cafe or its magazines and other nonbook items.
“Oh, I really am sad,” said Lillian Kelly, a 70-year-old retiree, upon hearing the news that the store would close. “I love buying my greeting cards here.”
Ms. Kelly said she visited the store at least twice a week, usually heading upstairs to read magazines and to pick up a sandwich and cup of Starbucks coffee.
“They’re getting business out of me, I suppose,” she said. “Even though I’m sitting there reading magazines for free.”
Roger Hawkins, a former television news producer who was busy e-mailing on his laptop in the cafe, said he had been a Barnes & Noble member, giving him additional discounts on purchases, but let his membership lapse after he started buying audiobooks online instead. “There are other reasons that people come to this bookstore,” Mr. Hawkins said. “You don’t have park benches on the street anymore. It’s hard to find a place where you can sit down and have a cup of coffee.”
At the store’s entrance on Broadway, a steady stream of customers pushed through the revolving doors. A teenager in a turquoise T-shirt walked out, scarfing down a scone, but with no books in his hand. A couple from Tennessee paused outside the store, but decided to wander down the block to the Lincoln Square movie theater instead.
Melissa Rosati, an adjunct professor of publishing at Pace University, said she bought nearly everything online but came to the store on Monday to spend a $25 gift card on “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell.
“It’s not like I’m going to miss it that much,” she said. “There’s another Barnes & Noble on 82nd and Broadway” (the one known for helping put the beloved independent bookstore across the street from it, Shakespeare & Company, out of business 14 years ago).
Ms. Keating, the Barnes & Noble spokeswoman, said a search was under way for a new location on the Upper West Side, but she declined to provide details.
Two other Barnes & Noble stores in Manhattan, one on Astor Place and one in Chelsea, have closed in the last three years. But Barnes & Noble still has the huge store at 82nd Street, and in July 2009, it opened a 50,000-square-foot superstore at 86th Street and Lexington Avenue.
One result of the book chain’s uncertain year may be that much of the old animosity toward Barnes & Noble, once seen by some residents as a corporate bully that helped squash small, independent bookstores, has lately been replaced with affection.
Monica Blum, the president of the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District, said she detected a change in the way people viewed big bookstores.
“It is a community gathering space,” Ms. Blum said. “I think the larger bookstores have worked hard to become those kinds of spaces.”
Dora Schulman, a shoe saleswoman who has lived in the neighborhood since the 1960s, left clutching a CD. “It’s a pity,” she said. “All the stores on my route are closing — first Tower Records, then Blockbuster, now this.”