Barbara’s Bookstore, which has had a presence in Chicago’s State Street Macy’s (formerly Marshall Fields) for the past decade, has been using its bookstore there as a model to bring books to Macy’s locations across the country. In addition to a Macy’s in downtown Boston, which now has a 300 sq. ft. book section, Barbara's added 40 stores—from Monterey, Calif., to New Orleans and Philadelphia—over the summer and more book areas are planned for 2013. About half the Macy's locations are branding their book areas with the Barbara’s name.
“These are not full service bookstores,” says Don Barliant, co-owner of Barbara’s Bookstore, headquartered in Chicago. “It is our best effort, and Macy’s best effort, to get a display of books into the stores. We think it’s good given current conditions to bring books into parts of the country where they haven’t been for a long time. This is not a 17,000 sq. ft. replacement of Borders.” At 1,600 sq. ft., the State Street store is significantly larger than the new Macy’s book sections. It is also the only Barbara’s where the employees are on the bookstore’s payroll. At present, Barbara’s is using vendor reps to check on its Macy’s book departments; Macy’s staff handles sales.
Barliant stresses that the arrangement with Macy’s is “much more modest” than some of the early Boston news stories might indicate, which spoke of Macy’s giving the downtown a bookstore now that Borders is closed. The Boston store is relatively small, even smaller than the longtime Barbara’s transportation store in Boston’s South Station, which is 417 sq. ft. And some Macy’s locations don’t have a dedicated section, simply a table or a tower. Even at stores with larger book areas, many of the books are spread throughout the store. Children’s books are displayed with children’s clothing, cookbooks in cookware, and sports titles with athletic clothing. “We have very few where it’s a separate area,” says Barliant.
“The stores are a year-round concept with an emphasis on the fourth quarter,” he adds. In Massachusetts, Barbara’s will set up holiday stores in seven Macy’s locations, besides the newly opened book areas in Boston, Holyoke, N. Attleboro, and Hyannis. Although holiday titles are expected to do well, kids books, regional guides, and local histories are also strong sellers at Macy’s. Last year at State Street, Barbara’s sold more than 400 copies of Gayle Soucek’s history of the store, Marshall Field’s: The Store That Helped Build Chicago.
Barbara’s and Macy’s plan to wait until the beginning of 2013 to add more book sections. Barliant anticipates opening another 30 in the first quarter. “This is not a competition to anybody,” he says. “These are intended to be add-on sales. You get a onesie and a board book."
Even before the extra Macy’s business came through, Barbara’s was doing well. “We’ve had a very good year,” says Barliant. “Double-digit year-to-year increases.” Not bad for a business that’s starting to mature. Barbara’s turns 50 next year; Barliant and Bailey have owned it since 1967.