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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Friday, July 27, 2007 2:54 pm
B&N, Borders Slash Soft Seating
Posted by: Keir Graff

In the Baltimore Sun (“Hard facts oust soft chairs at bookstores“), Rob Hiaasen (any relation to Carl?) reports that bookstores are coming to the conclusion that creating a library-like environment doesn’t necessarily translate to better sales:

At the Barnes & Noble at the Power Plant in the Inner Harbor, the comfy chair that once sat across from the picture books is gone. So is the one in the Mystery section. Instead, two people sit forlornly on the carpet, open books in hand. 

Speaking of a library-like environment, I’ve worked in two bookstores. And one of them offered a comfy couch for reading. We were pretty tolerant about letting homeless people sit there – Chicago winters can be rough – but after a fairly short time, even when there weren’t homeless people sleeping on it, it looked like the kind of couch that homeless people slept on. And I don’t recall ever seeing someone sit on it that wasn’t using some random book as a prop.

So I can understand the booksellers’ decision. But still, with major cities ripping out park benches by the truckload — sometimes I think they’re fighting the problem of homelessness by eliminating the places where homeless people might rest — where will we sit? You can walk for miles in Chicago without finding any better place to rest your dogs than a decorative tree planter.

Great cities have great street life, and that means providing comfortable places – public and private — where locals and tourists alike can rest their feet.

(Do you like how I steered the discussion from a simple business item to a personal pet peeve? Furthermore, it should be noted that I have no sourcing for my claim that cities are “ripping out park benches by the truckload” — that’s merely based on my observations as a committed pedestrian. And I’m not saying that bookstores should serve as homeless shelters. But maybe if we took better care of homeless people, we wouldn’t be so terrified of offering public seating.)


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