August 10, 2007
Behold the power of Facebook

Wow, a little more than a day and my Facebook group I Will Not Shop At The West Gray Barnes & Noble has 89 members, many of whom were invited by other people. Boy, this whole social networking software thing is gonna be big, isn't it? Okay, so maybe we don't have Weingarten or B&N quaking in their fashionable shoes just yet, but I'm pleased with the results nonetheless. Many thanks to Miya Shay, Houstonist, and Racy Mind for helping the cause.

Two things to add here. One comes from Houstonist's discussion of the nature of my little boycott:

What's the difference between boycotting all Weingarten properties and just the new West Gray Barnes & Noble? Well, it's kind of a fine distinction, but Barnes & Noble is a key player in this deal because the company is agreeing to vacate the Alabama Theater and become an anchor tenant in the replacement River Oaks center -- which means the company is, to some extent, involved in the destruction of both structures. What's more, Houstonist has heard that B&N has been keeping close tabs on public sentiment regarding the move, so we're sure they would be interested in knowing that they're not making any friends in Houston.

In my original post, I called this effort a meaningless gesture. It's not, really, but it's also not like I'm calling on anybody to make any kind of sacrifice. My goal for this is to get the attention of the players involved - Weingarten and B&N - and let them know that people don't like what they're doing. Will they actually take notice of this, and if so will they do something about it? I don't know, and I rather doubt it. But what else can I do? However small this is, I hope enough people do it so that the cumulative effect is big enough to not be ignored.

Having said all that, my second point is that I don't consider B&N to be bad guys here (well, up to the point where the Alabama Theater gets condemned, I don't). It's fine by me if people continue to patronize other B&N locations. I'm picking on them partly because as Houstonist notes, it's ridiculous to boycott everything Weingarten (for one thing, how would you know what's a Weingarten property; never mind the fact that you'd be hurting innocent parties even more), and partly because for better or for worse, that shiny new B&N-to-be has come to symbolize the demise of the River Oaks Shopping Center. In my fantasy world, the ultimate outcome of all this is that the West Gray B&N is a failure, and the lesson that Weingarten and those like them glean from it is that they should think thrice before messing with perfectly functional historic properties. That may be an impossible dream, but hey, at least I have one.

So that's what this is all about. If you've joined the group, or told others about it, I thank you. Whatever happens from here, I feel like I've done something worthwhile. I'm happy about that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 10, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

Great job, once again. Of course, it's a little easier for me since this particular B&N is a long walk from Chicago.

Posted by: Matt H on August 10, 2007 9:46 AM

I'm very disappointed B&N didn't build in midtown along the light rail line, since that would be very handy to me.

Then again, I guess maybe they preferred to build "where the people are" (as I've heard in relation to other things). :)

Posted by: Kevin Whited on August 10, 2007 8:46 PM

First of all, bravo for this use of facebook. What a great idea.

It sounds strange for a literary person with a passion for film (and who worked at Bookstop for a while!) to have qualms about this issue. But i do, and it really has nothing to do with the specific players involved.

Bookstores and movie theatres have been hurting in a major way, partially because they've stood in the way of digitalization and ecommerce. Neither is particularly profitable anymore. B&N is better than most, but not particularly good in the long run. We can make special provisions to preserve this movie theatre or this bookstore, but in the long run, these shops are just going to fade away. It's sad because bookstores and movie theatres are good places for cheap dates. But then again, there will always be entrepreneurs coming up with new ways to spend your entertainment dollars.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on August 13, 2007 9:15 PM