Barnes and Noble: America’s biggest book retailer

Last Updated on December 9, 2019

Barnes and Noble, with 623 store locations in all U.S. states, sells more books than any other U.S. retailer.

Charles M. Barnes began selling books
from his home in Illinois in 1873.
Today, Barnes and Noble owns a chain of large retail outlets that sell books, magazines, newspapers, novels, gifts, games, toys, music, and Nook e-readers and tablets.
And, of course, many of the store locations include a Starbucks.
As of 2004, Barnes & Noble began offering Wi-Fi 
in the café area of selected stores.

Barnes and Noble’s 623 U.S. Store Locations

In 1886, in New York City, Barnes & Noble began as a bookstore called Arthur Hinds & Company. In the fall of that year, Gilbert Clifford Noble, who had just graduated from Harvard, was hired to work there as a clerk. Eight years later, in 1894, Noble was made a partner and the store name was changed to Hinds and Noble.

In 1917, Hinds sold his part of the business to Noble who then entered into a partnership with William Barnes. The name of the store was changed to Barnes & Noble.

In 1930, Noble sold his share of the company to William Barnes’ son, John Wilcox Barnes. The company opened a new publishing division in 1931.

In 1932 the Barnes and Noble flagship location moved to 18th Street and Fifth Avenue and remained there until it closed in 2014.

  Gilbert Clifford Noble died on June 6, 1936, at the age of 72.

Wanting to create a relaxing environment for its shoppers, in 1940 Barnes and Noble introduced Muzak, a system of “piped in” music. The store was one of the first businesses to feature Muzak.

  William Barnes died in 1945, at the age of 78, and his son,
John Wilcox Barnes, took control of the company.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Barnes and Noble expanded, opening another retail store on 23rd Street in Manhattan, and shops near a number of Northeast colleges.

In 1964, John Barnes died and two years later the company was sold to the conglomerate, Amtel. The business was purchased in 1971 by Leonard Riggio for $1.2 million. At this point in time, the business was failing and only the flagship store at 105 Fifth Avenue and a severely depressed wholesale operation remained. Amtel sold the publishing part of the business to Harper & Row.

In 1974, Barnes and Noble began to advertise on television–the first bookstore to do so. The following year, the company made new inroads by becoming the first bookseller to discount books on The New York Times best-selling list at 40% off the publishers’ price.

In November 1974, editors of the British-produced Guinness Book of Records announced that Barnes and Noble had become the world’s biggest bookstore, selling more than London’s Foyles bookshop.

In 1989, Barnes & Noble purchased the 22-store chain Bookstop.

In September 1993, Barnes & Noble issued $77 million worth of stock on the New York Stock Exchange under the BKS ticker symbol. In August 2019 Elliot Management purchased all of the company’s stock and reverted Barnes and Noble to a private company.

Barnes and Noble began selling on the Internet in 1999
with BarnesandNoble.com.

Besides selling more books than any other retailer in the United States, Barnes & Noble, Inc. is also a Fortune 1000 company. In August 2019, Elliott Management Corporation acquired the company.  

Some interesting facts about Barnes and Noble…

  • Barnes & Noble sells approximately 155 million physical books per year.
  • Barnes & Noble is the second-largest retailer of magazines in the United States, carrying about 5,500 magazine titles and almost 1,000 newspaper titles.
  • Barnes & Noble hosts 100,000 community events every year.

Gloria Sauvé
Communications and Marketing

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