Last week, GM broke the news that Barnes and Noble had given up its lease and was closing down. Many people are not happy about it.
Why the closing of a large chain store struck a particular chord with Georgetowners (and others) is that it was a perfect “Third Place”. This term, coined by Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place, described those places in a community where people come together outside their home (first place) or work (second place). They can be bookstores, cafes, pubs, libraries, whatever. To Oldenburg, and those that follow him, these places are most essential parts of that community.
What made Barnes and Noble a particularly great Third Place was that it offered Georgetowners and visitors alike a place to escape from the heat or the cold (or just the crowds), but you didn’t have to pay anything to use it.
Many of the classic Third Places continue to exist in Georgetown–the Marvelous Market seating area jumps to mind–but as restaurants like Nathans get swapped for tourist traps like Serendipity, the price has gone up while the “community” quality has fallen.
Oddly enough, if there’s one store that GM’s seen that can fill the “just want to browse out of the elements without buying something” void it’s the Apple Store. Every time GM goes in there, he sees people wander in there just to play with the toys for a while before wandering out (which 9 times out of ten is exactly what GM’s doing). It’s not quite the same thing a browsing great literature (or a great magazine rack), but it’s the least technology can do for us after killing our bookstore.
Of course there’s no greater (or cheaper) Third Place in Georgetown than our great library. Long may it reign.