Barnes & Noble Leaves Forest Hills After 20 Years; Residents Feel Loss of Community Anchor

In All by Tola Brennan

Barnes & Noble, a destination on Austin Street for over two decades, is being replaced by a Target and locals say it’s a big loss for the neighborhood that will leave a vacuum the local library won’t fill when the store closes Jan. 31.

“It sucks,” said Lee Rosenberg, 33, a film location scout who was snapping a selfie with a book he bought at the store. “There’s something communal about a store that you just don’t get from online shopping.”

Michael Perlman, a local preservationist and author, was among the most vocal advocates for the bookstore. In May, he created a petition on Change.org to keep the branch open and it garnered 5000 signatures in a little over a week.

Perlman was especially disappointed by the decision. “It’s really disgraceful how Muss Development ignored a petition with such meaningful comments,” he said, referring to the owners of the building. “They’re being very shortsighted.”

Another strong advocate, Michèle Dore, 56, was similarly stung. “It was a shock for me and our community,” she said. “This is where our neighbors have been going to for decades. It’s simply a part of Forest Hills history.” She said the community will now be forced to travel long distances for books. “We have public libraries but I don’t want to borrow my books, I want to purchase them in a store,” she said.

The local library is aware of the closure, but doesn’t have a clear plan yet. “We’re kind of speculating,” said Geoff Waters, one of the library managers. “We don’t have a sense yet of what’s going to happen.” He lamented the citywide loss of bookstores and noted that Forest Hills has a lot of heavy readers. “They’re always reserving books here from all over the system,” he said.

Some residents don’t have much faith in the library’s ability to step up.

“It’s pitiful,” said Stephen Melnick, a community activist. “If there’s gonna be any overflow, that library will not be able to handle it.”

However the loss hasn’t troubled everyone. “It would be bad if there was nothing replacing it,” said Leslie Brown, director at the Chamber of Commerce. She said it’s a great development for Forest Hills and that Target will provide items other stores nearby don’t.

Frank Gulluscio, district leader of the community board, concurred and said the responses are overblown. He said the Barnes & Noble closure is a symptom of changing times. “I heard Shake Shack is coming to Austin Street,” he said. “That franchise is in. People love it.”