Bookstore opens new chapter at Sequoia Mall

Barnes & Noble is in talks to build a 16,000 square foot bookstore next to Sprouts, Nordstrom Rack as part of plan to revive the Sequoia Mall

VISALIA  – The Sequoia Mall will have a bookstore for the first time in more than a decade as Barnes and Noble is planning to build a site at the re-emerging mall.

A spokesperson for the NY-based bookseller Barnes and Noble says they are “close to securing a site” in Visalia for a new bookstore. 

“It could happen very soon,” Janine Flanigan, Director of Store Planning and Design for the company, said. “We are opening many new stores across the nation.” 

Sources say the likely location will be a 16,000 square foot store being constructed next to the new Nordstrom Rack and Sprouts grocery store announced earlier this month. Developer Dave Paynter could not confirm the bookstore deal, likely because the lease has not been finalized. Paynter did file a plan for the new store with the Visalia Planning Department recently.

The possible location is part of a dramatic turnaround for an industry that appeared to be on its deathbed just a few years ago. 

During the 2010s, venerable bookstores began fading away- killed as they say- by the internet. But during the pandemic, people started reading again, brightening prospects for the Barnes & Noble chain -the only player left in this business.

The private retailer stands alone after a series of mergers and bankruptcies in the American bookstore industry since the 1990s. It is the largest national bookstore chain. The company is among the nation’s largest manager of college textbook stores including the COS bookstore, although management is completely separate from the off-campus bookstores. Most stores sell books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, graphic novels, gifts, games, toys, music, and Nook e-readers and tablets. The company offers publishing and self publishing services.

Flanigan notes the turnaround began, in part, in 2019 after the book chain was sold in 2019. She credits management, which allows local booksellers to decide what locals like to read, as one reason for success along with the pandemic shutdowns rekindling interest in books. 

Flanigan says the new store will follow a prototype design that the company has used on its last 16 new stores. The site plan at the Sequoia Mall filed with the city shows tables in a plaza in front of the store. If the new Visalia store has the space, Flanigan said they will include a coffee bar as seen in other B&N bookstores.

Barnes & Noble has been opening new bookstores at an unprecedented rate.  Having opened only one or two new stores each year during the decade after 2009, Barnes & Noble has already opened 16 new bookstores this calendar year and has over 30 further stores in development for 2023. The company boasts sales of over 190 million physical books per year, carries 3,000 magazine titles and over 400 newspaper titles. 

Barnes & Noble has a retail presence in every state, with approximately 600 bookstores. A lesser known part of its business, Barnes & Noble Cafés pour approximately 39 million beverages and bake 5.4 million cookies, 985 thousand croissants and over 450 thousand scones.  The Café also serves 1.1 million cheesecake slices and grills over 600 thousand sandwiches annually.

If bookstores are coming back from the dead – so is the Sequoia Mall, which now appears to be just about full of tenants in the old vacant Sears building, all of whom are expected to open by next fall, according to Paynter. It is likely the bookstore would be on the same timeline.

Like the announcement of an organic grocer and new discount department store, this new bookstore will be good news for Visalia in that the city does not have a national bookstore since Borders closed at the Sequoia Mall over a decade ago. Downtown is also getting a new bookstore run by Family Healthcare Network in the former Picnic building. 

The Sequoia Mall news would give Visalia three new anchors in retail categories we don’t have today. It would also offer consumers choice and add to Visalia’s sales tax base. With three new national retailers the old mall appears to be coming back to life after years of just hanging on. The only cloud hanging over the development of this well located retail property is the uncertain future of the movie theater. Regal Cinema, who runs the two movie houses in Visalia, has declared bankruptcy.

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