In a rare show of vulnerability from a pugilistic e-commerce giant, Amazon has closed the book on all of its brick-and-mortar stores, including the Columbus Circle bookshop at the Deutsche Bank Center (formerly Time Warner Center).
It was a stark announcement from a company which initially rose to prominence by aggressively colonizing the bookselling landscape, using lightning fast shipping and undercutting prices to slaughter everyone from big-box Barnes and Noble (still alive!) and Borders (out of business!) to small, independent vendors.
Reuters reports that the retail monolith will shutter 68 stores in total, including all of its bookshops as well as its “4-star” stores made up of user-curated products. Representatives from Amazon stated the company planned to pivot its focus to their grocery business through Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods, the latter of which accounted for the lion’s share of the retailer’s physical store revenue.
Amazon declined to comment on the move or the number of jobs sacrificed by the closures. Head of physical retail Cameron Janes recently left the company after 14 years, fueling speculation that the call was made by Amazon’s new chief executive and chief union-buster, Andy Jassy.
Amazon’s May 2017 opening was much-heralded in the New York press, lauding the 3,000 title shop as a “brightly lit with subtle warmth,” a “Mecca of discovery”, and “what Amazon does best: Predictable, good value, and reliable for the masses.”
But New Yorkers didn’t appear to mourn the loss of what amounted to a slightly larger, equally as bland, airport-esque bookstore atop the Deutsche Bank Center’s mall-like tower. As Curbed noted, one New York Times review of the shopping experience encapsulated the particularly bleak, dystopian nature of it all: “Spending time browsing here was among my most dismal shopping experiences in recent memory: joyless, arbitrary, spiritually empty. And that was before a 20-something guy bounded into the store and started screaming: ‘Alexa! Alexa! Alexa!’”
Hell’s Kitcheners looking for books curated by something other than an algorithm will need to hoof it up, down, and across town to the Drama Book Shop (266 W39th St, the second act for the once-shuttered bookstore now run by Lin-Manuel Miranda), Argosy Bookstore (116 E59th St, specializing in antique and rare books in an equally antique setting), or Shakespeare & Co (2020 Broadway and W70th St, the revival location of the popular downtown indie shop). Those looking for literary and cinematic New York nostalgia will be happy to note that the new Shakes & Co is a stone’s throw away from the first indie bookstore to be felled by a corporate behemoth — the fictional Shop Around the Corner from the Nora Ephron classic You’ve Got Mail was set on W69th Street.
While the loss of a convenient bookstore in Midtown West adds to the challenge of picking up a new read in the nabe, the Amazon bookstore may not have had what you were looking for anyway. In an essay for The New Yorker, bestselling author Jia Tolentino summed up the uncanny-valley quality of a bookstore that feels entirely devoid of humanity — the missing puzzle piece eternally buried behind Amazon’s couch: “The store’s biggest shortcoming, though, is that it is so clearly not intended for people who read regularly. I normally walk into a bookstore and shop the way a person might shop for clothes: I know what I like, what generally works for me, what new styles I might be ready to try. It was a strange feeling, on Thursday, to do laps around a bookstore without feeling a single unexpected thrill. There were no wild cards, no deep cuts, no oddballs — just books that were already best-sellers, pieces of clothing I knew wouldn’t fit me or that I already owned.”