The Daily News published an article on May 14 concerning the lack of a lease renewal between the store and landlord Muss Development. The details behind the negotiations haven't been revealed, but Muss Development is reportedly appealing to other national retailers to open in the space.
A day later, a petition addressed to Muss Development, Barnes & Noble and elected officials was launched on change.org calling for the lease to be renewed. Within 48 hours, it garnered 2,350 signatures and an outpouring of comments.
“Its closure would signify the loss of Forest Hills' only bookstore and a community cornerstone that attracts patrons from beyond the immediate neighborhood,” read a statement accompanying the petition. “Barnes & Noble represents personalization, which contributes to the historic character of the charming, diverse, and vibrant Austin Street that dates to 1906.”
Barnes & Noble opened on Austin Street in 1995, after undergoing a significant expansion from a small storefront on Continental Avenue to two floors of retail consisting of 22,000 square feet.
Austin Street’s retail environment largely consists of boutique shops and restaurants, and Barnes & Noble is considered a novelty by many that fills a specific need.
“This is a store where multi-generational patrons have the opportunity to explore various genres under one roof, feel as if they are traveling around the world and through time, and interact with the physical nature of books by touching the pages, smelling the print, and appreciating the illustrations,” read the petition.
For local patrons and book lovers, the future of the Forest Hills branch is the sole option, despite the downsizing of Barnes & Noble stores and the folding of other book chains in a digital age.
“To be able to actually hold a book and turn the pages is something that can never, ever be replaced,” said 17-year-old Ryan Phoenix Jose. “Growing up in Forest Hills, Barnes & Noble has become a part of my home. Without it, it will be a loss of a part of my childhood, where we bought all our books and presents for almost every birthday.”
“A trip to Forest Hills means a trip to Barnes & Noble, and I never walk out empty handed,” added Lisa Hollingsworth. “My membership card is so old, it doesn’t even swipe anymore.
“Physical bookstores are hurting because some people will only buy from online retailers to save a few dollars, but I think people that are ‘paying more than they should’ come from a different frame of mind,” she added. “I value the calmness of the store and talking to like-minded people.”
Hollingsworth is skeptical about the future of Austin Street.
“In the early 1990s, there were four movie theaters, a comic shop, music shops, a stationery store, and lots of mom-and-pop stores,” she said. “Now all I see is a bunch of medical facilities and more big-brand stores.”
In the 2,000-member Facebook group “Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens – Our Communities,” ideas have rapidly surfaced about the possibilities of organizing a "book-in," rally, and meetings with elected officials. Another suggestion involved collecting digital signatures along Austin Street and displaying “Keep Barnes & Noble Open” flyers in storefronts.
“Barnes & Noble symbolizes culture in my neighborhood,” said Peter Schiftan. “It is a place where we meet authors who sign and discuss their books and where we can become armchair historians and politicians.”