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 www.chriskubica.com. 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.
Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog.
I visited B&N’s Seattle mega-store numerous times before it closed—the one in University Village about a hundred yards from Amazon’s first bookstore. You’ve nailed the people I saw there but missed a couple that matter most.
First, are those shopping for presents—birthday, Christmas or whatever. They’re not sure what they want, so they need a store that lets them browse and see how a book actually looks. Gift-wrapping also helps. That’s why the store was filled to overflowing around Christmas but rarely at other times.
Second comes parents of small children. For kids’ books, it still makes sense to see before you buy. The pictures and feel matter, as does the ruggedness.
In my city the BN bookstores are not very friendly to adult readers — although their magazine rack can’t be beat! They have a lot of gift books and children’s books (and games and such). I almost always will shop at BN for travel books and programming books, but little else.
In my city, book clubs often have meetings at BN, so it’s good for something.
I work about 10 minutes from a suburban B&N. I rarely go there even when I eat lunch at Pho two stores down. It’s full of YA, sci-fi series, movie tie-ins, games, and gift books. Nothing I want. Now if I worked in Seattle near Eliot Bay Books, it would be a different story.
Not all bookstores are going to attract the same kind of customers.