In the Suburbs / Studying Fairfield's new college bookstore
Published 6:36 am, Thursday, January 26, 2012
I meet my friend Bob from Westport regularly for coffee, and now that he's retired, I asked if he's come to Fairfield for a change and meet me at the new Fairfield University Book store.
"Where is that?" he asked.
"It replaced Borders," I replied. "I was there in November [right after it opened], and I want to see the finished product."
I arrived a bit early, and my first stop was the magazine racks, which have been moved toward the front of store from the rear, where Borders had them. Being a consummate browser, I could spend an hour checking out the various publications and often sat for longer than that in the back of Borders. But the new store has only about half the half the magazines.
I understand the demand for magazines may not be as strong as it used to be, but I was disappointed not to see some titles. For instance, I didn't find "The Writer" and "The Writer's Journal," two magazines I enjoy reading; there were only copies of "Writer's Digest" and "Writer's Market." And I didn't see "Poets and Writers" or various publishers' journals.
As for relaxing in front of the racks, I saw a couple of chairs between book shelves, but gone were those great Border's benches where one could sit and leisurely peruse before deciding to buy. I missed them.
When Bob arrived, we went immediately to the snack area and discovered a seating area smaller than the previous one and lack of available tables, particularly larger ones.
I tried to decide if the store management's goal was to discourage long visits, study groups and coffee klatches or whether the intent was to foster a more intimate space for quiet conversation.
Fortunately, it was 4 p.m. and not too crowded, but I wondered what this snack area was like in the evening or on a weekend. The operant word, I think, would be "tight."
Starbucks was the new cafe operator, but when I tried to use my Starbucks card, the cashier politely explained that the machine could not accept gift cards yet. I tried to understand but wished all the systems had been tested, since I was probably not the only frustrated cardholder. Nevertheless, having Starbucks' as the anchor was a welcome change after the Borders' operator.
On the book front, perhaps I was spoiled by Borders' abundance. After all, it was a mega bookstore and a place my wife and I often spent hours browsing and enjoying on a Saturday or Sunday.
I have to say that while there appeared to be a lot of books at the new store, the choice didn't seem as broad as its predecessor's or Barnes & Noble's in Westport. I thought the selection was a little sparse.
Another thing I noticed is that the book selection ended at the stairs to the second floor, and the rest of the downstairs was a wide array of Fairfield University products -- shirts, sweat shirts, hats and myriad of branded products and greeting cards. And why not? It is a university bookstore after all.
As I glanced toward the other side, back toward the corner where Borders' magazine racks had been, I saw the technology center with its accessories for computers and what looked like a WiFi area. "That looks interesting," I thought.
The second floor was a bit of a shock for me. A large section had been walled off, I assumed for a huge storage room. I felt a little cramped.
Where CDs once had been was a section of children's and young people's books and games. And beyond that were shelves -- still relatively empty -- where textbooks would go. Staffers appeared to be doing inventory and getting ready for what likely would be a huge shipment of textbooks for the spring semester.
The textbook area is going to be a real plus for me, and I think it is going to attract a lot of people. It will be great to browse college and graduate-level texts along with the regular book selection.
How do I like the Fairfield University Bookstore?
I'll just say that it's radically different from its predecessor in many ways. It's convenient for my wife and me, a great spot for short get-togethers and has a nice selection of books. But I'm going to be drawn to Westport for an even larger book selection, CDs and other conveniences like a spacious snack area.
Nevertheless, it's still great to have an anchor bookstore right in downtown Fairfield and I'm sure as more stock comes in, the store will continue to do well.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.