Alex Shephard

Barnes & Noble’s new strategy: Get people drunk.

The aspiring “lifestyle brand” has been moving away from books for some time. The fiction section at the Barnes & Noble I am writing this dispatch from has retreated roughly 30 feet over the past decade; from my perch I can see board games, R2D2 mugs, chocolates, and, yes, some books, too (mostly written by Bill O’Reilly). 

According to the Utica Times-Dispatch, the store is now exploring entry into another lifestyle market: alcohol. At a recent town board meeting at nearby New Hartford, Kevin Danford gave notice that Barnes & Noble would be applying for a beer and wine license. According to Danford, there are no plans to turn the store into anything rowdy—it won’t be a bar or a nightclub or anything that will “change the complexion of the neighborhood.” B&N will test the response in New Hartford before it brings beer and wine into other stores; there’s no word if this experiment is limited to that store, or if it will be taking place in other stores. 

Instead, Barnes & Noble will be dipping its toes into an arena where many smaller booksellers have found success: serving beer and wine at events. (A few booksellers, like Denver’s BookBar, have established themselves as hybrid bookstores/bars.) Will it work? Maybe! Some have wondered if alcohol will drive away customers drawn into the family gift store puzzle-land environment B&N is cultivating, but many stores have found the right balance between being family-friendly and alcohol-friendly before—the question is if B&N’s customer base is too broad for Shiraz and Chardonnay. 

Pictured above: an empty table and a teddy bear at my hometown B&N in Big Flats, N.Y.