12 Fascinating Facts About Barnes & Noble

Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

No matter how affordable and convenient e-book readers have become, there’s still nothing quite like strolling through the aisles of a well-stocked bookstore and flipping through the pages of a real book. That’s excellent news for Barnes & Noble, the most recognizable brick-and-mortar bookseller that operates more than 625 stores nationwide and sells 190 million titles a year. The chain was recently acquired for $683 million by the private equity firm Elliott Advisors, which plans to reinvigorate the brand. Here are some margin notes on the company's storied history.

1. Barnes & Noble began as textbook retailer.

Charles Montgomery Barnes decided to open a bookstore in Wheaton, Illinois in 1873. A nearby college and public school created demand for textbooks, which could be easily restocked thanks to freshly-laid railroads. Barnes’ son, William, took over in 1902 before moving to New York City in 1917 and partnering with fellow bookseller Gilbert Clifford Noble. By 1932, their flagship Barnes & Noble store on Fifth Avenue was selling books of all kinds, though in a somewhat peculiar manner.

2. Barnes & Noble pioneered the use of "book-a-terias."

Long before the McDonald brothers imagined an assembly line for hamburgers, Barnes and Noble used their New York store to experiment with a revolutionary new layout. Customers in the 1940s would approach an employee who filled out a sales slip; another clerk would package the book; a third would handle the money to complete the transaction. While expedient, the cafeteria-like flow and awkward division of labor never caught on.

3. Barnes & Noble was one of the first stores to pipe in Muzak.

Muzak, the branded term for the serene instrumental sounds heard in retail outlets, was started in the 1920s by the Wired Radio Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Purporting to have scientifically-arranged scores to maximize the soothed moods of consumers, the business moved to New York in 1936. Barnes & Noble became an early adopter in 1940, installing an elaborate speaker system that offered music, sports updates, and news. The tunes were also meant to offset employee fatigue by playing faster beats at regular intervals.

4. A college dropout wound up buying Barnes & Noble out.

By the 1960s, Barnes & Noble had outlived its namesakes and began to entertain offers from buyers. Leonard Riggio was a part-time college student at New York University who worked at the campus bookstore and was frustrated to discover he wouldn’t be allowed to oversee its operation. He dropped out and opened a competing store, the Student Book Exchange, in Greenwich Village in 1965. The business grew so successful that he was able to purchase Barnes & Noble’s flagship store (which was its own location at the time) in 1971 for $1.2 million.

5. Barnes & Noble sold books to people who didn't want to read them.

Not that they couldn’t read—they just preferred not to. When Riggio opened an 80,000 square foot annex near his Fifth Avenue location in 1975, closeout books were sometimes sold by the pound. This generic approach filled a need for customers who wanted books to fill shelf space in their homes, effectively making them a decorative item. Buyers who loaded up were even granted use of grocery-style shopping carts.

6. Barnes & Noble wanted people to loiter.


Elvert Barnes, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

While newsstands didn’t take kindly to people reading without purchasing, Barnes & Noble was an early advocate of letting customers stretch out and relax a bit. Riggio found the sales annex so large that it was easy to install benches, telephone booths, and bathrooms, making it easier for people to linger. Although he received criticism from people thinking his stores would become glorified rest stops, Riggio was right: People would browse longer if you let them pee. He later added armchairs, coffee, and cooking demonstrations.

7. Barnes & Noble was online long before Amazon.

Blood was drawn early and often when Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com vied for e-commerce dominance in the late 1990s: the latter even sued the former for claiming to be “Earth’s biggest bookstore.” While Amazon got the brunt of compliments for their pioneering internet venture, they weren’t first out of the gate. In the 1980s, Barnes & Noble tested the viability of selling books via an online service called Trintex. An electronic shopping interface funded by IBM and Sears, Trintex worked on personal computers and allowed subscribers to shop online. The service later became known as Prodigy.

8. Barnes & Noble was the first bookstore to advertise on television.

In 1974, the bookstore hired ad agency Geer, DuBois to produce television spots for the New York City market, a first for the industry. Their tag line—“Of course, of course”—became a minor catchphrase in its time. Because the brand was still growing, however, Barnes & Noble wasn't able to be billed for a lot of money. When Riggio acquired the B. Dalton chain in 1987, he turned over their substantial $9 million advertising account to the agency as a way of rewarding them for their work.

9. Barnes & Noble turned down Tom Hanks.

In Nora Ephron's 1998 film You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks plays an executive at a major bookstore chain who falls in love with an independent proprietor (Meg Ryan) whose store he happens to be pushing out of business. Ephron wanted to use Barnes & Noble as the monolithic company but, despite the high-profile product placement, Riggio turned her down. The plot may have hit too close too home: in 1996, the mega-store’s presence smothered the smaller Shakespeare & Co. bookshop on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

10. You can read any Barnes & Noble Nook e-book for free. (Just not for long.)

While relaxing in stores with a book and cappuccino was previously an analog experience, the company’s Nook e-reader offers an interesting twist: in-store shoppers can read any book available on the format, for free, for up to one hour per day to assess their interest.

11. Barnes & Noble used to have a store inside an old movie palace.


uff-da, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

While most of Barnes & Noble's storefronts stick with the traditional green template, Rochester, Minnesota’s Chateau Theater was a pretty opulent exception: a movie theater that opened in 1927 and was converted into a bookstore in the 1980s. (The marquee stayed intact.) Barnes & Noble left the building after its lease expired in late 2014, setting the stage for the city to buy the theater back the following year.

12. Barnes & Noble once banned comic books.

Irate that DC Comics parent company Warner Bros. made a series of comic book collections available exclusively on Amazon’s Kindle device, Barnes & Noble pulled more than 100 DC titles from their inventory in 2011. Writer Neil Gaiman observed that the move basically gave Amazon the print exclusive to those titles, as well. DC titles have since returned to stores.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

16 Fun Facts About The Baby-Sitters Club

Scholastic
Scholastic

In 1986, Scholastic published the first The Baby-sitters Club book, Kristy’s Big Idea. Before long, the books were hitting bestsellers lists and what started as a four-part miniseries would eventually grow to more than 200 books. By the series' original end in 2000, 176 million copies of Baby-sitters Club books had been sold—which, if stacked on top of each other, would be as tall as 77,203 Empire State Buildings.

In 2006, The Baby-sitters Club got a graphic novel makeover (it, too, kicked off with Kristy's Big Idea). There was also an HBO series in 1990, and a film in 1995. Now, Netflix's version of the beloved book series starts streaming July 3.

Here are a few things you might not have known about the hugely popular books, which didn’t just turn kids into readers—it also turned them into babysitters when they created their own real-life clubs.

1. Scholastic editor Jean Feiwel came up with the idea and the title for The Baby-sitters Club, then hired Ann M. Martin.

When Jean Feiwel joined Scholastic in 1983, she was put in charge of the publisher’s preteen and young adult book clubs. The idea for Baby-sitters Club came when Feiwel noticed that a book called Ginny’s Babysitting Job was a top-seller month after month, despite having “a rotten cover” and being buried on the third or fourth page of the book club's catalog. “I thought, it must be something about baby-sitting because it’s not something about Ginny or the cover,” Feiwel said.

The editor then approached Ann M. Martin—whom she had briefly worked with at Scholastic before Martin left to become a freelance writer—with the idea and the series’ title. “All I gave Ann was just a glimmer of an idea—a series about a babysitters club,” Feiwel told Publisher’s Weekly in 2010. “She came up with everything else.”

2. Ann M. Martin drew from her own friendships and experiences to write The Baby-sitters Club books.

“First, I had to decide exactly what a babysitters club might be and I decided that it would be a babysitting business,” Martin told Glamour in 2010. “And then I created the four original main characters.” The author, who not long before had been a teacher for a year, said that experience was foremost in her mind: “I was also thinking of the kids in my classroom who came from really different kinds of backgrounds. I remember at the time being struck by how many came from families in which the parents were divorced or a lot of blended families. And this was just a pretty typical classroom in Connecticut.”

Princeton, New Jersey, where Martin grew up, was the inspiration for BSC’s Stoneybrook, Connecticut, and when it came time to create her characters, Martin drew on her own friendships: Mary Anne and Kristy were based on the author and her best friend Beth, respectively, when they were growing up.

“We started a number of clubs and they were all her idea,” Martin told The Washington Post in 1995. “They lasted for about two days, but it was like the old Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movies: ‘Hey, let’s start a club.’ We’d meet in Beth’s bedroom, eat cookies, and then go home.”

Claudia, meanwhile, was named after Martin’s friend Claudia Werner. She also wrote her goddaughters into the books, who readers might remember as the Perkins girls, frequent charges of the BSC: “As adults, they tell me that it's a lot of fun for them to look back and read about the characters that were inspired by them,” Martin told Scholastic.

Martin spent a lot of time babysitting in her youth, but that wasn’t the only thing she used for inspiration: Her childhood desire to find a secret passageway in her house (which was designed and constructed by her parents just five years before they moved in) inspired The Ghost at Dawn’s House, while summer vacations on the Jersey Shore—and in Surf City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, and Cape May in particular—inspired Sea City, New Jersey, the fictional town where members of the BSC enjoyed summer adventures in Boy Crazy Stacey.

One thing Martin never used as inspiration: The thousands of ideas that were sent to her by fans, which all tended to be too dramatic for the series.

3. The Baby-sitters Club was intended to be a four-book miniseries.

The idea was that each book would focus on one of the four original characters—Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey—and have a run of 30,000 copies. The first, Kristy’s Big Idea, debuted in August 1986 in bookstores and in book clubs; it quickly sold out of its initial run, then sold an additional 120,000 copies. The other books also did well—so well that Scholastic requested another two BSC novels with initial runs of 100,000 copies; starting with Mary Anne Saves the Day, the books were printed in runs of 250,000 (it would one day become the first children’s book to appear on the USA Today Bestseller List) and were soon being published at the rate of one a month.

The Baby-sitters Club was a hit, and it was no wonder it resonated with young girls: The books focused on issues and topics they would find relatable. Things like divorce, the death of a pet, sibling rivalry, disabilities, cancer, racism, eating disorders, learning disorders, the death of a friend, and sexism were all fair game. Drugs and sex were not, however. “I think these topics are a little heavy for younger readers,” Martin told TIME in 1991. (More mature issues like alcoholism and abusive relationships were explored in the Dawn-centric spin-off California Diaries.)

4. The Baby-sitters Club covers were painted by Hodges Soileau—and one featured Kirsten Dunst.

Hodges Soileau, who now teaches part-time at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, painted covers for more than 300 books in various genres, including beloved series like The Boxcar Children as well as Harlequin romance novels. For The Baby-sitters Club covers, he worked from photographs of models—one of whom was a young Kirsten Dunst on her very first job. “My first cover was a book in the Baby-sitters Club series, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls,” Dunst told Parade in 2008.

5. The handwritten portions of The Baby-sitters Club books were all created by one employee.

Each BSC book focuses on a different character and features handwritten passages—and though each may have looked as unique as the BSC member it belonged to, they all actually came from one hand: “The handwriting for the girls—all of them!—was done by one person in Scholastic's art department,” Martin said.

6. Originally, Martin wrote all of The Baby-sitters Club books herself.

When The Baby-sitters Club debuted, Martin was writing each of the books herself at the rate of one per month. She had a routine: Each morning she’d wake up early, then write longhand on yellow legal pads from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Soon, Scholastic added a spin-off series to her load: Baby-sitters Little Sisters, which she also had to write at the rate of one a month. And her workload continued to grow: In 1995, Martin told The Washington Post that “I’m responsible for 12 Baby-sitters Club books a year. Twelve Little Sisters books, six mysteries, and about four Ms. Coleman books [another BSC spin-off], and two or three other titles ... It totals over 30 books a year. I don’t even think Stephen King could do it.”

7. A multitude of Baby-sitters Club spin-offs eventually meant hiring ghostwriters.

When the workload became too great for Martin, she and Scholastic opted to hire ghostwriters—a small group of writers that Martin and her editors had worked with before, including Ellen Miles, Peter Lerangis, and Nola Thacker. “I almost didn’t have a choice, because there is no way I could have written all of those books myself,” Martin told CNN in 2014. “Each of the authors had to read all of the books in the series up to the point from which they would be writing so they would have the background.” (It’s easy to tell if a book has been ghostwritten: Look for an acknowledgments page that thanked the ghostwriter for “help in preparing this manuscript” or “help in writing this book.”)

But just because the books were ghostwritten doesn’t mean Martin had stepped away entirely: She outlined the plot for each book (“I am a huge outliner. I outline everything,” she told CNN) and edited them as they came in. “I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I had been an editor before I became a full-time writer, so this was like putting my editorial hat back on.”

8. There was a Baby-sitters Club bible

To keep consistency, the editorial team created a BSC “bible” full of details like each character's eye color, hobbies, and habits. The bible was overseen by David Levithan, then a 19-year-old intern who would go on to become Scholastic’s editorial director. “I was the guy on the subway not only reading BSC, I was reading it with a highlighter to keep track of who spoke French, who had green eyes, and so on,” he told The Atlantic.

The bible would go on to be published as a book of its own: The Complete Guide to the Baby-sitters Club.

9. The hardest Baby-sitters Club book for Martin to write was Claudia and the Sad Good-bye.

Claudia and the Sad Good-bye, which deals with the death of Claudia’s grandmother, was written shortly after Martin lost her own grandmother. “There was a lot of me in the book,” Martin told Life in 2002.

Claudia’s uber-fashionable outfits, incidentally, were sourced from clothing catalogs, magazines, and what kids were wearing on TV.

10. Reading about Stacey’s diabetes in The Baby-sitters Club helped some readers get diagnosed.

Martin, who gave Stacey diabetes after two of her friends were diagnosed with the condition, told Entertainment Weekly in 2012, “It never occurred to me that after I wrote this book [The Truth About Stacey] I would hear from so many readers who actually recognized the warning signs of diabetes and [got] diagnosed themselves based on Stacey’s story.”

The author’s descriptions of diabetes helped in other ways, too. As one commenter wrote on Martin’s Facebook page :

“I have to admit that a lot of what you wrote about Stacey's diabetes really helped me tremendously when I took Anatomy and Physiology recently. The descriptions you wrote about the disease were very accurate.”

11. When Stacey was written out of The Baby-sitters Club, fans freaked out.

In BCS #13, Good-bye, Stacey, Good-bye, Stacey heads back to New York City. “I thought it was reasonable that in a group of friends the size of the Baby-sitters Club, one member might move away at some point,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly. “Since Stacey hadn’t grown up in Stoneybrook, I thought it made sense that she might have to move back to New York City.”

But at that time, Stacey was BSC’s most popular character, and fans were not pleased: “BIG MISTAKE! Stacey’s huge fan base let it be known that they wanted her back in Stoneybrook asap!” Martin wrote on her Facebook page. Stacey had her homecoming in BSC #28, Welcome Back, Stacey!

12. John Green is a Baby-sitters Club fan.

Boys were BSC fans, too—including author John Green. He wrote in the September/October addition of The Horn Book Magazine that, when he was around 10, he started to hate the Hardy Boys—not the books, but the characters. “They were vapid and preppy and struck me as entirely too popular,” he wrote. “The Hardy boys were never lonely or inexplicably sad. They got scared sometimes, but only because the cave was dark. Every 10-year-old worth his or her salt knows that caves aren't nearly as terrifying as people.” But Green found what he was looking for in BSC:

“I found the Baby-sitters Club, and I was in love. I was in love with Stacey, of course, because she was awesome and cute and industrious and also vulnerable and prone to getting herself into the kind of trouble that one does not often find in caves. But I was also in love with the books. The BSC offered me characters whose conflicts were like my own, or at least relevant to my own: they experienced interpersonal conflict, and even internal conflict. If I may paraphrase Faulkner when talking about the Baby-sitters Club: for me, at least, Stacey's griefs grieved on universal bones.”

That devotion lasted into Green's college years. During a fight with a college girlfriend, Green retreated to her family’s guest room, where he found her old BSC books. “I spent an hour reading Claudia and the Sad Good-bye, and by the time I reached its end, I felt much better,” he wrote. “I was 19 years old. By then, I needed more from books than the BSC could provide—but what they could provide, I still needed.”

13. There was a Baby-sitters Club TV series on HBO.

When Scholastic wanted to create a BSC TV show, they first approached the networks, where the publisher hit an unexpected roadblock: No one thought a TV show aimed at girls would be successful. One network suggested making the show a cartoon, and others discussed adding more boy characters before giving the go-ahead, but Scholastic dismissed those options. Instead, the publisher created two straight-to-VHS specials themselves.

Finding young actors that matched the characters in the books was no easy task. “We saw 500 girls because we were looking for very specific physical characteristics,” Deborah Forte, then VP at Scholastic, told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1992. “And they had to act, too.”

The videos were a surprise success: 1 million cassettes were sold for $12.95 each and based on that, HBO picked up the series: Thirteen half-hour episodes ran throughout 1991. The episodes later aired on the Disney Channel, and you can watch them today on Hulu.

14. There was also a Baby-sitters Club movie.

Just a few years later, Columbia Pictures released The Baby-sitters Club movie, which starred Schuyler Fisk as Kristy, Rachel Leigh Cook as Mary Anne, Larisa Oleynik as Dawn, and Bre Blair as Stacey. Scholastic co-produced the film and was involved heavily in the production. Jane Startz, executive vice president of Scholastic Productions, helped to hire a screenwriter, took part in script revisions, and hung out on set. “Scholastic wanted to make sure The Baby-sitters Club movie would have the same feel as the books,” director Melanie Mayron told the Los Angeles Times. “[Jane] was like a partner and I was grateful to have her … she’d point to [one of the characters] and say, ‘She wouldn’t do that.’”

Martin, too, worked on the film, helping to create the plot and weighing in on the script when necessary. “I was involved from the very beginning, talking to producers and working on the general idea for the plot,” she told Publisher’s Weekly in 1995. “I saw the script through its many, many stages. I’ve seen the movie twice now and am very pleased with it.” The movie, which had a budget of $6.5 million, made a little under $10 million domestically.

15. When Martin wrote a prequel in 2010, Scholastic reissued the first seven Baby-sitters Club books—with a few changes.

By 2009, all of the Baby-sitters Club titles were out of print. In 2010, Martin released a prequel to the events of BSC called The Summer Before. “It was fun to explore their lives in the prequel,” Martin told Amazon, “and to figure out what led the girls to form the Baby-sitters Club, something that would eventually change their lives. It was like a reunion with friends—friends who haven’t changed a bit.”

To celebrate the prequel, Scholastic released the first seven books in the series with new covers and important updates: References to outdated technology like Walkmans were removed; Stacey’s perm was replaced by an “expensive haircut.” But they didn’t go all out. “We felt if we set ourselves going down the road of cell phones it would have been crazy, so we didn’t do that, but we updated stuff about Stacey’s diabetes, and we got rid of stuff like VCRs,” Martin told Elle.

16. Martin has some ideas about where The Baby-sitters Club girls ended up.

Though The Baby-sitters Club is being reborn via Netflix, Martin is still often asked about what her characters are doing now, and though she doesn’t have any hard answers, she is willing to speculate. In 2010, she told The Washington Post in 2010 that Kristy is likely a politician or a CEO, while Mary Anne decided to become a teacher; Stacey works in fashion and business and Claudia in art (obviously). Jessi is a dancer, and Dawn is a permanent California girl—but Martin isn’t sure what Mallory would be up to. Maybe, she speculated, she would go on to write a series of books for children.