By Chris Kubica

Maybe Barnes & Noble® can help me crack a mystery. Just who are its café customers? I’m a software developer by day and author-editor by night, and as an outsider, I’m baffled. Kids don’t hang out at malls anymore. Who buys CDs? Who reads all those magazines? Who buys paper greeting cards? Who shows up in person to buy hipster board games? Who goes to bookstores to buy tea kettles or beer steins?

I confess. I myself still visit the ghost-towny big-box store near me, usually with my kids, and sip a coffee-like drink at the B&N® café. But about the only people I see in the café fall into the following categories—none of them book-buyers:

  • Category #1: The Never-Buy / The Showroomer
    Stacks of B&N® books on the table. No snacks or drinks from the cafe. Sitting there all day, reading and reading and reading, never purchasing a thing.
  • Category #2: The Have-a-Meeting
    Four people. Two round tables pulled together. Steno pads. Excel®. Coffee with cream in to-go cups. Intense conversing and note-taking. Soft leather briefcases.
  • Category #3: The WiFi
    Surfing the Web, usually on a 15-pound Dell® laptop with stickers all over it. White earbuds. Hard Rock Café® t-shirt.
  • Category #4: The Homework-er
    Overstuffed backpack. Battered MacBook® Air. Headphones. Stack of textbooks. One Tall® cappuccino. Gaudy, Forever 21® blouse.
  • Category #5: The Old Lady / The Old Guy
    Brought library books and a bottle of orange juice from home. Flip phone. Lots of nose-blowing. Smiling at everyone. Shawl. Bifocals hanging around neck. Crumpled napkin with lipstick on it.
  • Category #6: The Phone-Talker
    Venti® iced mango tea, sitting by the window, loud smart phone conversation, Bluetooth® earpiece, tube socks, Hawaiian shirt.
  • Category #7: The Beats®
    Not reading. Not studying. Just sitting there, wearing a coat in the summertime, jamming to Spotify®. Eyes closed. Smirking.
  • Category #8: The Divorced Dad
    17 napkins all over the table and floor, one kid in a seat, one on the dad’s lap. Dad gets Grande®, iced Americano®. Potato chip crumbs, board books, shrieking. Spilled boxes of Organic Valley® chocolate milks. More shrieking. More napkins. Diaper bag.
  • Category #9: The Married Couple
    Saying grace before eating identical orange-cranberry scones with knives and forks. Both reading Nook® ebooks on iPad Pros®. Bottles of Fuji® water.
  • Category #10: The Off-Duty Barista
    Green visor and apron. Texting. Android® phone with shattered screen. Venti®, caramel Frappucinno®. Table nearest the trash can. Pizza pretzel.


Chris Kubica is a software developer-writer-editor-movie producer. He lives in Carrboro, North Carolina, USA, and may be found online at Photo by Chris.

Note: Chris wanted to focus his observations on the cafés, not the stores in general. I’ve fixed an earlier version of the piece. Blame the editor, me. – D.R.