Local residents are responding with disappointment and dismay to the news Friday that Barnes & Noble’s Bethesda Row store will close at the end of the year.
“I’m really shocked and sad,” said Chevy Chase resident Amy Rice as she left the store Friday. “I specifically come here to support a brick-and-mortar bookstore.”
A change.org petition to save the store has gained traction, garnering more than 2,000 signatures. The petition, aimed at Federal Realty Investment Trust, owner of Bethesda Row, calls Barnes & Noble the “heart and soul of Bethesda” and asks signatories to boycott whatever retailer moves into the space.
“By promising to boycott Barnes & Noble’s replacement, we can show Federal Realty how much our community cares for Barnes & Noble, and that we do not want another store to replace the crown jewel of Bethesda,” Arielle Feuerstein wrote in the petition.
Another petition signer, Elizabeth Fox of Washington, D.C., wrote: “This book store has been my meeting place, my coffee dates, my great book finds, my quiet working spot and so much more from my high school years through my 30s. It's still where I go even once I moved into D.C. It would be such a shame to see such a Bethesda standard pushed out.”
Ginanne Italiano, president and CEO of the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce, said by urging people to boycott the next tenant, the Change.org petition is “really disappointing” and “not fair.” She said there are still other bookstore options nearby, including the Barnes & Noble in Rockville.
“We’re a thriving market,” she said. “Quite honestly I’m not concerned at all. Federal Realty does an excellent job in promoting the downtown and their development and I have full faith that they’ll be attracting a retailer or whatever it is that they’re going to be doing that’s going to be just as great.”
Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner, who represents Bethesda, told Bethesda Beat on Monday that Barnes & Noble’s departure is “a great loss.” He said Federal Realty executives tried hard to make the space work for the bookseller, but the company made it clear it couldn’t use the space.
“This isn't wonderful for Federal Realty—they know it's an iconic building right there in the heart of Bethesda, but this is one of those national phenomenons,” Berliner said, speaking about the ongoing decline of brick-and-mortar booksellers. “It's playing out throughout the country, but it's painful for our community. It's really been a lovely part of Bethesda.”
Sarah Pekkanen, a novelist whose books include Things You Won’t Say and The Opposite of Me, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat that Barnes & Noble’s closing feels like “the death of a friend.”
“My very first book signing was held at this store, and I will never forget taking a deep breath and walking to the podium and seeing my parents, my children and my friends smiling in the audience,” wrote Pekkanen, who lives in Chevy Chase. “I won't be able to pass the corner of Bethesda and Woodmont Avenues without feeling its absence. Bethesda won't be the same without you, B&N. Thank you for the memories.”