Barnes & Noble readies for Harbor debut Oct. 6 Mega-bookstore will be Power Plant's third major tenant


September 25, 1998|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Dozens of books sat stacked on gleaming hardwood floors yesterday at the new Barnes & Noble at the Inner Harbor, as employees sorted titles and filled shelves. Plastic still covered the cushioned armchairs. And 55,000 compact discs and cassettes had yet to be stocked.

But otherwise, downtown's first mega-bookstore appeared ready for its Oct. 6 premiere as the Power Plant's third major tenant. Fish swam in a 3,000-gallon freshwater tropical tank built into a wall; cafe counter workers served up lattes and tropical smoothies during a practice run, and two massive copper smokestacks -- from the days when the plant powered city streetcars -- rose through the store's two levels.

During a sneak preview of the sprawling store, with its harbor views and exposed brick and steel beam decor, Barnes & Noble executives expressed confidence that the "city that reads" would do its description justice.

For the bookselling giant, one of the nation's largest chains, the 35,000-square-foot site between the Hard Rock Cafe and the ESPN Grill represents somewhat of a new direction -- being part of the new breed of "urban entertainment center," destination-oriented projects that mix specialty retail with themed restaurants and entertainment.

The retailer has stores in Annapolis, White Marsh, Ellicott City and Bel Air and will open a Towson store Nov. 18 in the Baltimore-based Cordish Co.'s Towson Circle project in the former Hutzler's department store.

"Traditionally, we've been in more residential areas or business areas," said Randy J. Losapio, Barnes & Noble's New York-based community relations manager. "This is the first crossover" with the ability to capture the harbor area's tourism market.

Large bookstores have generally worked well as specialty retail components of entertainment centers, said Michael Beyard, a senior research director with the Urban Land Institute, which has studied the retail phenomenon.

"One of the categories that developers have found to be an important part of the mix are leisure-oriented category killers," such as Barnes & Noble, Beyard said. "They have coffee shops, sofas to sit; they encourage people to browse. It's part of the experience.

"One of the important factors is that it creates an environment and experience that people enjoy coming back to, something they're comfortable with. Even if they have no intention of buying, then end up buying."

Though many of downtown's smallers booksellers have shut their doors in recent years and others struggle to stay in business, Barnes & Noble hopes to fill what it sees as a void of large-format bookstores, and welcomes competition from others

planning to come into the city, said Jeff Creamer, district manager for the Baltimore region.

Bibelot, a Baltimore-based bookstore chain, plans to open a 16,000-square-foot book and music emporium in late October in the restored American Can Co. near Canton's waterfront.

"Barnes & Noble and any large bookstore chains have tended to increase the market for books when they go into it," said Jason Klein, an equity analyst who follows Barnes & Noble for Blackford Securities in Garden City, N.Y.

"It's an inviting atmosphere. People who wouldn't ordinarily buy books would go in."

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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