National book retailer coming to Dubuque

A national book retailer is opening a location in Dubuque.

Barnes & Noble will open a store this spring in Asbury Plaza, in the former Pier 1 Imports space that most recently was occupied by Spirit Halloween. Window decorations at the store advertise the bookseller’s impending arrival.

“It’s always good to see another bookstore,” said Joe Bell, director of corporate communications for Cafaro Co., which owns a majority of storefronts in Asbury Plaza. “We know their reputation precedes them. It’s a fine name in books across America, and we are pleased they are coming here.”

The 9,000-square-foot space is being renovated. A building permit issued by the city of Dubuque in December lists the construction value of the interior buildout at $476,700.

Barnes & Noble operates nearly 600 stores across all 50 states. The Dubuque location will be its eighth in Iowa.

“Right now, Barnes & Noble is expanding, and we are looking at all kinds of communities, especially markets we underserve or haven’t served,” said Janine Flanigan, senior director of store planning and design at Barnes & Noble Inc.

The company is the world’s largest retail bookseller but also sells digital media, educational products, newspapers and magazines, among other items, according to its website.

Barnes & Noble was founded in 1873, when Charles M. Barnes started a book business out of his Wheaton, Ill., home. The company’s first flagship store was opened in New York City during the Great Depression.

Barnes & Noble became a publicly traded company in 1993 and continued to grow throughout the 1990s and 2000s. In 2011, Barnes & Noble purchased Waldenbooks as well as Borders, both of which once operated stores in Kennedy Mall. In 2019, Barnes & Noble was acquired by United Kingdom-based Elliott Advisors and taken private.

A listing for the Dubuque location on Barnes & Noble’s website indicates the store will open in April at 2531 Northwest Arterial and will include toys and games as well as “expanded vinyl” offerings for purchase along with books and other materials. The Dubuque location will not have a cafe, Flanigan said, due to the store’s square-footage limitations.

She added shoppers will experience Barnes & Noble’s recent aesthetic update that includes brighter colors, new flooring and furniture and various “book rooms.”

“What you’ve seen in Barnes & Noble is different than this store,” Flanigan said. “It’s lighter and brighter. We design the store in a way that creates wonderful shops. We have book rooms including for hardcover and new releases. The journey takes you from one book room to another.”

Bell was pleased to note that the largest of the three remaining empty storefronts at Asbury Plaza will be filled. Pier 1 Imports closed in 2020 after store officials reported declining sales that eventually led to all its stores closing and the company filing for bankruptcy.

“It’s good to fill that space after it was made empty because of the bankruptcy of Pier 1, which was a shame,” Bell said. “But, like a lot of retailers, they faced turbulence in the past. So we’re happy that that space will be filled. Dubuque customers will have another choice for books.”

Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Molly Grover said she is happy another national retailer has opted to set roots in Dubuque.

“We are always thrilled to welcome new businesses to Dubuque for the people who live, work and play here,” Grover said. “Retail is important to attract and retain (workforce) talent, and this is fantastic. It’s not only a welcome and known retail commodity, but this also helps create job opportunities and generate additional sales tax revenue and keep more of our dollars local.”