Savoring a brew with your book

Renderings of the concept bar and dining room. Courtesy Barnes & Noble.

There are few greater pleasures in life than a good meal and a good book.

For years, Barnes & Noble customers have enjoyed a latte, a slice of cheesecake or a spinach and feta-filled pretzel with their books and Nooks. But now they’ll be able to sip a beer or relax with a glass of wine in a full-service restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Later this month, the New York-based retailer and nation’s largest bookstore chain, will open this first “concept store” in Eastchester’s Vernon Hills Shopping Center on the site of the now-defunct Borders Books and Music. So there’s a precedent for a bookstore there — and for a restaurant, too. Patrons of a certain vintage will remember it was once the site of Alex & Henry’s.

“Adding wine and beer is almost kind of essential to rounding out (the dining) experience,” Jaime Carey, the recently appointed president of Barnes & Noble’s development and restaurant group, says. (Previously, he had served as the company’s chief operating officer.)

The new Eastchester concept store will also feature an expanded offering of books, additional seating, open spaces for store events and an outdoor space complete with a bocce court and fire pit.

While the total footprint of the new stores will decrease about 20 to 25 percent compared to existing ones, dining spaces will account for a greater percentage of in-store real estate and contribute to a larger portion of overall sales, Barnes & Noble officials have said.

The Eastchester location will be one of four concept stores nationwide, with the others set to open in Edina, Minn.; Folsom, Calif.; and Loudoun, Va., in the coming year.

The new B&N concept store arrives in WAG country at a moment when  book chains and mom-and-pop shops are looking for ways not just to survive but to thrive. The bookstore eatery is not exactly new. Kramerbooks & Afterwords is a bookstore with unusual titles and a café in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle that feature live music and special events. During a recent visit, both hummed with activity.

The B&N concept stores, Carey said, are about strengthening that kind of in-store experience for customers.

“It wasn’t just about making it more transactional,” Carey said of the new stores’ designs, but about “making your time in the store more enjoyable.”

Among the company’s other initiatives are a plan to take advantage of the booming adult coloring book trend by opening “For the Artist” shops in 200 stores that will provide artist supplies; a wider selection of graphic novels; and an expanded membership program.

“It’s about coming and enjoying the space,” Carey says. “That’s really what we’re kind of trying to do here.”

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Georgette Gouveia contributed reporting to this story.

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