BY JON CRONIN
In the ever changing landscape of shops and boutiques in the city, Barnes and Noble, a 20 year stalwart of Austin Street in Forest Hills, will be closing its doors in January of 2016 when their lease runs out and replaced by Target.
Falling quickly upon the news of the Austin Street store closing, Queens’ bibliophiles have learned that the Barnes and Noble Bayside location, the only other franchise in the borough, is also closing, to be replaced by a HomeGoods. A third store, in Fresh Meadows near St. John’s University, shut down last year.
“Despite our best efforts to secure lease extensions at both our Forest Hills and Bayside Barnes & Noble locations, the respective property owners decided to lease to other tenants,” David Deason, vice president of Development at Barnes & Noble, said. “With Forest Hills, we communicated that we were willing to increase the rent and had an initial agreement with the property owners, who in turn did not live up to that agreement. With Bayside, when our lease came back up for renewal the property owner notified us that they chose a tenant who was willing to pay rents far in excess of what we were willing to pay. The Queens community is extremely important to us and as a result we are aggressively looking at new locations and expect to have a new store there in the future.”
But in a statement to the Queens Tribune, Jeff Kay, COO of Muss Development, the owner of the Forest Hills site, said “Barnes &Noble had a five-year option to extend its lease at 7000 Austin Street, which they chose not to exercise. Ownership has consistently said that they wanted to arrange a long-term commitment at the property. Unfortunately, Barnes & Noble wasn’t able to do that. We subsequently negotiated a market rate lease with Target on a long-term contract. We’re excited to have them.”
Community Board 6 District Manager Frank Gulluscio said he is, “Concerned about the ever-changing face of Austin Street.”
“Barnes and Noble was such a landmark,” he added, but he feels that the presence of a store like Target will be “economically good for Austin Street.” In the end, he realizes there was nothing else to be done to keep bookstore there, “It was a corporate decision made by Barnes and Noble.”
Target wrote in a press release on their website, “we’re customizing each new store to ensure a locally-relevant experience…It’s all part of our urban growth strategy to reach guests in new places with the right mix of products and shopping experience.” An email inquiry to their press department was met with a reply stating what was shared in the initial press release was all that could be said about the new store at the Barnes and Noble location. There was no answer as to why Target would place another store so close to their store in Elmhurst.
Outside of Forest Hills’ Barnes and Noble on last Friday residents reacted to the news.
“That’s terrible,” said Jorge Molina of Forest Hills. He added, “Target’s taking over our learning space. It’s a great spot, a library in motion.”
Joan Carney of Richmond Hill takes the bus and fills her shopping cart when she visits the location, “It’s the one place I want to be,” she said and of Target replacing it she noted, “That we don’t need.”
“It’s pretty tragic. My world is swept away,” said Terry of Rego Park.
Diane E. of Forest Hills said, “I’m appalled. There’s not one bookstore in Queens. It is a loss for the community. Our political leaders should do something to invite another bookstore. To have a Target is evidence that the neighborhood is being downgraded.”
Taiki Fukui, a Forest Hills resident and student, said he would come to that store to buy books for school and that from now on, “It’s gonna be pretty inconvenient.”
George Velazquez said of Target moving in, “I feel like there is already a bunch.”
Here is a sampling of the comments left below Target’s announcement on their website;
Danielle Sandra, a counselor at Central Queens Y, said “Horrible idea!”
Terry Pickett, of Hillcrest High School in Jamaica said, “Austin Street is a horrible place to put a TARGET.”
Bobbi Maline ·of Forest Hills gave one of the few positive comments, “I kind of like this. I use a walker and Target would be a nice destination. B&N will be missed but as someone noted people came and read and used it as a library and never bought. Never a chair vacant and a lot of floor space taken up by readers but not buyers. Sad but true.”
Jared Nissim recommended, “Please make an indoor play area for kids – that is badly needed in Forest Hills – you would get a lot of traffic if you had a place where people can bring their kids.”
Reach Reporter Jon Cronin at (718) 357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin