Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

The Barnes and Noble in Georgetown has given up its lease, giving way to an unnamed retailer paying an unusually high $65 per square foot.

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.

Commenter Ben wrote on Georgetown Metropolitan,

This is terrible news no matter how one looks at it. I can’t fathom of any retailer—Bloomingdales, Saks, H&M, whatever—filling the hole that the B&N will be leaving behind. It was one of the precious few commercial spaces where one could literally “kill time” without racking up enormous bar tabs or restaurant bills. I spent many an hour in this store, browsing, sipping coffee and—yes—buying.


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 can fill the “just want to browse out of the elements without buying something” void, it’s the Apple Store. Every time I go in there, people wander in just to play with the toys for a while before wandering out (which 9 times out of 10 is exactly what I’m doing as well). It’s not quite the same as browsing great literature (or a great magazine rack), but it’s the least technology can do for us after killing our bookstore.

Cross-posted on the Georgetown Metropolitan.

Tagged: dc, georgetown, retail

Topher Mathews has lived in the DC area since 1999. He created the Georgetown Metropolitan in 2008 to report on news and events for the neighborhood and to advocate for changes that will enhance its urban form and function. A native of Wilton, CT, he lives with his wife and daughter in Georgetown.