Barnes & Noble Thursday told Retail Dive in an email that "a number of employees in the corporate office" have been laid off. A spokesperson declined to say how many people are affected.
The company also said that a New York State WARN notice that 64 employees are being laid off involves a store in New York City's Upper East Side. The location at 86th St. and Lexington Ave. operated for 12 years "but is now too large, and too expensive, for our needs," according to a spokesperson. The store will close by September, according to the notice.
Plans for new stores in smaller formats are ongoing, however, with two opening this month, a spokesperson confirmed to Retail Dive.
Barnes & Noble, which had struggled during Amazon's more than two decade-long rise, recently centered a turnaround on a strategy to localize its stores.
Annual sales hadn't grown since 2012, and declined $700 million from 2015 to 2019. A revolving door of CEOs and strategies complicated the bookseller's ability to compete.
Under new owner private equity firm Elliott Advisors, which bought the company last year, the idea is to treat stores not so much as links in its chain, but more like independent, local stores. Store closures were not on the radar, Elliott said then. But the pandemic has challenged that. "We've publicly stated how difficult COVID has been," the spokesperson said by phone.
Still, the company is opening stores in those smaller formats, with greater control over merchandising at the local level. This month Barnes & Noble opened two new stores, one in Illinois and the other in Florida.
Indeed, the bookseller says it will go back to the New York City neighborhood where it now plans a closure. "It is always sad to close a store but we expect to return to the Upper East Side with a new bookstore before too long, and we are in active pursuit of a new site," the spokesperson told Retail Dive via email.
For now, employees at that store, which the company said has been closed since March due to COVID-19, may be able to transfer to another Manhattan location, the spokesperson said.
The local strategy isn't a bad one, considering how successful independent booksellers have been, garnering loyalty in their communities despite selling products that can be found more cheaply online. And the company has managed to hang on to a good reputation and some brand loyalty. Unlike most independent bookstores, however, many Barnes & Noble's locations tend to be sprawling buildings like the one on the Upper East Side.