Although little is known about the handful of new concept stores Barnes & Noble has said it plans to open this year, at least one of them is springing up outside of New York City. The book chain is moving forward on what appears to be one of its first concept store locations in Westchester County, having filed three building applications for the store in the town of Eastchester.
B&N announced that it would be establishing the new concept stores in its third quarter earnings report in March. Although B&N has said it intends to open four concept stores in 2017, the chain has been vague about what, exactly, these stores will look like. B&N CEO Rob Boire described the stores as "omni-channel" locations which will encourage customers to buy products online.
According to the minutes of the Eastchester, N.Y., planning board meeting held Feb. 25, the panel approved B&N’s site plan for the former Borders outlet located on Post Road in Eastchester. The panel also green-lit special permits for a “type 3” restaurant and an outdoor dining area.
Although B&N had no comment on the Eastchester board’s action, presentations made by two B&N representatives during the application process make it clear the outlet is one of the four concept stores that the company hopes to open.
At a January meeting of the Eastchester architectural review board, David Wimmer, who identified himself as a manger at B&N, said the store will be "the first of an entirely new Barnes & Noble concept store." Elaborating on this, Wimmer noted that "the interior will not be like anything you’ve seen in other Barnes & Noble stores."
At the February planning board meeting, Greg Belanger, an architect with HB&A Architects, added a few more details, explaining that the outlet is "going to have a completely new design.” Belanger said B&N has hired an Italian designer to work on the new stores. B&N hopes to open the store “in October or so,” Belanger said.
During a brief rundown of the plans for the store's interior, Belanger said customers go down an escalator to reach the main floor, where the store opens into a large common space that B&N is calling “the piazza area.” That space is flanked by “very tall fixtures” in the back, and “cloud lighting.” The bookshelves will be set up around the area’s perimeter.
Belander suggested that B&N will be limited in how much flexibility it will have in changing the shelving. “If I look at this fiction department in here, they give me a quantity of units that they want, and I have to get that in there and make it work architecturally,” he said, adding that “this is not going to be as flexible for them to change” as in the past.
Much of the discussion between board members and Belanger dealt with B&N’s plans for the store's cafe. The cafe will occupy the same space as Borders’ cafe, and will rely on a convection oven to prepare food on site. The final menu for the cafe is still being developed, Belanger said, noting that it will feature sandwiches. He also assured board members that the cafe will serve Starbucks coffee.
Another topic that generated discussion was B&N’s plans for the existing patio. Belanger said the company will build a “NanaWall” facing the patio what will make it easy to retract panels to allow customers to move inside and outside. B&N’s goal, Belanger said, is to make the patio available to customers in three seasons.
In making their presentations, the B&N representatives faced a very friendly board. The chairperson of the planning commission asked why it took the chain so long to take over the Borders location. "Eastchester is definitely paying attention [to the application process] because everyone wants a bookstore back," the chairperson said. Another board member noted that if he voted against the project, “my younger daughter would kill me. She loves Barnes & Noble.”