Barnes & Noble to stay open in Merced – for now

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comOctober 31, 2013 

— Officials from Barnes & Noble and the building’s management company said they expect to ink a deal that will keep the bookseller in town, at least in the short term.

Earlier this month, the corporation announced it did not expect to be in Merced past January. However, officials from Barnes & Noble and Decron Properties, a Los Angeles-based property management company, are expected to agree on a month-to-month lease for the 21,714-square-foot building.

“It gives them some chance to see if they can’t modify how their business is run,” said John Love, the director of commercial properties for Decron. “It gives us an active tenant in the center and, if they can’t make a go of it, gives an opportunity to find a more permanent replacement tenant while they stay in business.”

Love said the lease reduced the rent for the building, so Barnes & Noble could remain profitable. Love said it is preferable to have a company paying the decreased rent and generating foot traffic rather than have an empty building.

However, that is unlikely to last a long time if the profitability of the store does not improve.

“My guess is it’s at least for six months, and possibly longer,” he said. “It’s hard to say for how long.”

David Deason, the vice president of development for Barnes & Noble, said communication between the corporation and the property owner had broken down before he made the announcement the Merced location would likely close in January.

Since then, Deason said, the negotiations have been productive.

“I just don’t know why it hadn’t been responded to previously,” Deason said. “I’m not challenged or angry in any way; it was just unfortunate.”

Deason said Barnes & Noble remains focused on keeping the store open in Merced and “we’re hopeful we can do that.”

Losses in the first part of the year led the Barnes & Noble corporation to hand over the manufacturing of its color Nook tablets to a third party, the company announced in June. The company also said it will continue to manufacture its black-and-white e-readers and sell the color tablets.

Merced Economic Development Director Frank Quintero noted that Barnes & Noble has closed some of its stores in California and elsewhere in recent years. Despite the closures, keeping such a large retailer in town is good for Merced, he said.

“We are thrilled that Barnes & Noble will remain, even if it’s on a month-to-month basis,” Quintero said.

It’s unusual for executives to change their mind after announcing a closure, Quintero said. It is apparent, he said, that the property owners don’t want a building of that size to go dark in the shopping center.

The Merced Marketplace, where the 1720 W. Olive Ave. bookstore resides, is along a six-lane road. According to the city’s count, drivers make about 46,000 trips through the area daily.

Quintero said finding a permanent replacement for the bookstore won’t happen overnight, but the recovering economy in the state will help.

“I think it’s really important that we not get too relaxed, and we put forward an effort to find another tenant to go in there,” Quintero said.

Word that the bookstore will stick around, even if it’s for a short time, will likely be good news in Merced, where it’s the only brick and mortar store that sells primarily new books.

Since Oct. 20, a Facebook page called “Say NO to closing Barnes & Noble in Merced” has received almost 3,000 “likes.”

Jacob Rafati Heravi, 29, said he started the page because he desperately wanted to keep the bookstore in town. He said he didn’t know if he could make a difference, but he wanted to try because of the nature of the business.

“When you are closing a bookstore, you are closing culture,” he said.

Heravi, who is a mechanical engineering doctoral student at UC Merced, said time matters, so any extension of the lease is a good thing.

“We have some more time to think about it,” he said. “Maybe we can do something.”

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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