Photo of the day: Follow this line

I walked into the Barnes & Noble on 18th Street and Fifth Ave the other day, and found something curious. Lines of colored tape along the floor.

As I approached a sales guy for help finding something, I overheard him talking to the gentleman before me: “Just follow the yellow line to the end and it’ll be on your right.” The guy was a bit confused for a moment — you could see him thinking, “yellow line?” — but then the sales guy pointed to the floor and the shopper was on his merry way to the Business section or Biographies section, or whatever the yellow line happens to end at.

The physical structure of the space makes it impossible for a salesperson to point off into the distance and say, “Travel is over there,” because there’s probably a wall or ceiling between here and Travel. These colored tapes prevent each salesperson from having to walk the customer to the shelf they’re looking for, but it does in fact need their facilitation — there is no legend posted in the store to indicate which color goes where.

Most people aren’t aware that the kind-of-crappy, oddly laid out, fairly small B&N on 18th Street is actually the megachain’s flagship store — where it has been open since 1932! The original location was a few blocks away and opened in 1915, but later moved to the smaller location in the Great Depression. The B&N history is explained on Wikipedia, but amusingly their corporate site only starts the history when Leonard Reggio acquired it in the 1960s.

The only other place I’ve seen anything similar to this is at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon. The place is absolutely enormous, so they color code each room and use a map to indicate which sections are in which room.

Similarly, I’ve also seen a path of footprint stickers on the floor at the flagship Century 21 showing customers the roundabout way to the adjacent shoe department.

This Photo of the Day is timely because much to my dismay, the Barnes & Noble in my neighborhood (Lincoln Triangle at 66th and Broadway) just shut its doors on January 2. I was there on the last day to help empty the shelves, and ended up buying 13 books. After 15 years in that location, the landlords drove up the prices so high that floundering B&N could no longer afford it.

So what’s taking over its space? Century 21.

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  1. says


    I’m curious though… this seems like such a brilliant tool for users. But I wonder what effect it has to overall sales. It seems many chains specifically pray on people’s ‘wandering’ about to find things they want – so they can offer things that person didn’t want.

    I’ve found myself buying something I hadn’t intended to buy at a Target the other day just after the whole store was re-organized.

    Not that I’m personally opposed to buying only what I actually am looking for! lol.

    • says

      The lines only went from the front door to the back of the store, through various rooms and whatnot. So I’m sure there are still plenty of opportunities for people to wander and happen upon all sorts of stuff they didn’t intend to buy!

  2. says

    I really enjoyed reading this, for a couple of reasons. First, Powell is one of my favorite bookstores and a must visit whenever I am in Portland. I remember thinking the first time I went in that the colors and maps they have were an excellent idea given the scope of the store. Another northwest bookstore I love is Elliot Bay in Seattle which also grew in a very organic manner but didn’t have a way to give clear directions.

    Barnes & Noble used to be a customer of mine, and I spent much time in their flagship store as well as the old 666 store. I think the tape is an excellent idea of not over-engineering a solution. Nice observations, and nice memories.

    • says

      I’ve never heard of Elliot Bay, so I’ll definitely have to check it out next time I’m in Seattle. I love bookstores; wandering through them is one of my favorite pastimes. Glad you enjoyed the post!

      • says

        Elliot Bay has moved from their original location in Pioneer Square up near Pike Market now. It’s still the same wonderful people, but I can’t help but feel that something was lost in the move. Still worth the afternoon however.


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