The Worst Bookstore Ever?

This Saturday my lovely wife and I trekked up to Bethesda for a change of dinner scenery on our way to seeing The Wild Bunch at AFI Silver.

We took in a great meal of Shrimp Quesadillas, Jumbo Shrimp Brochettes and Steak & Chicken Fajitas at Rio Grande Cafe. (Which yes, we could have gone to the one in Ballston which is closer to our home, but the Bethesda branch has a much nicer bar and double shot Margaritas).

We had some time to kill after dinner so we walked around Bethesda. Once the torrential rain started, we took shelter in the Bethesda Barnes and Noble.

As we browsed the stacks, waiting out the rain, I came to the conclusion that the Bethesda B&N has got to be one of the worst bookstores I have ever been in.

I am a ferocious devourer of books and I worked in DC’s best-kept secret of bookstores, Reprint Bookshop for several years. Not to say I am a bookstore snob, hardly. In fact I actually embrace some outlets of the mega-chains. For instance the Borders at Bailey’s Crossroads in VA is fantastic.

The Bethesda B&N however is far from fantastic, so far in fact that the first adjective that comes to mind to describe it is fucked. This three level bookstore has degenerated into a glorified coffee shop, where the books are merely impulse items to buy while you await your double-delux-mocha-foam-whosit. The division of books by subject and by floor was ridiculous. Putting half of the stacks in the basement and the other half on the third floor, requiring any serious book-shopper to wade through the gag-gifts and greeting cards quagmire of the main floor in order to browse their entire collection.

Their collection is the real reason for this tirade. It isn’t that they didn’t have what I was looking for.(Which they did not – Canadian Travel Guides or any histories of the French & Indian War) My complaint is that I didn’t see any evidence of any books that would satisfy any serious reader.

The entire store is full of graphic novels, joke books and the best-sellers in each respective genre. All of it haphazardly thrown on crooked shelves arranged to steer you towards the coffee shop. The sensation of walking through this store reminded me of the time I was stuck in the Taj in Atlantic City where every hallway seemed to lead back to the gaming floor and away from the exit.

I am fuming and could go on and on and on. I guess I will just cut myself off here.

I will part with this thought. When bookstores give up on their original purpose and focus on selling coffee through Casino-style floor planning, they cease to be viable bookstores. This criticism could be levelled against all of the big chain stores. However, I think the worst offender by far has got to be the Bethesda Barnes & Noble.

At least the Bailey’s Borders regularly stocks Montcalm and Wolfe.

PS- Reprint Bookshop does not have a web-site so here is their address:

Reprint Bookshop
455 L’Enfant Plaza
Washington, DC 2001

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