The Barnes & Noble opened in Bethesda in 1997. Credit: JOE ZIMMERMANN

The Barnes & Noble on Bethesda Row was full of empty shelves and nostalgic customers on Thursday, its final day in business.

The retailer that spent two decades as a landmark, meetup spot and bookseller on Bethesda Avenue is packing up and saying goodbye.

Friends Colleen Cullinane and Reagan Raczynski gasped in dismay Thursday afternoon as they walked past the store and spotted the sign announcing its Jan. 11 closure.

“It’s so sad,” Raczynski, 18, said.

“I don’t know where middle schoolers are going to meet up for their dates,” Cullinane, 18, said ruefully.

Cullinane and Raczynski, both graduates of Walt Whitman High School, said the bookstore is loaded with memories for them. Raczynski said she studied at the store nearly every day after school, and she and her parents had a Sunday tradition of visiting the Barnes & Noble to pick out a new book.


The two friends both had their first kisses within sight of the store, they said.

Abhi Sharma, a D.C. resident who works in Bethesda, walked out of the Barnes & Noble carrying a stack of new books Thursday afternoon. As a software designer, he still appreciates relaxing by reading a paper book rather than staring at another screen. He said he’ll miss browsing the aisles of Barnes & Noble.


Reagan Raczynski, left, and Colleen Cullinane said the Barnes & Noble was full of childhood memories for them. Abhi Sharma, right, said it was appropriate that he bought the book “Why Dinosaurs Matter” at the store Thursday. “Bookstores are going the way of the dinosaur,” he said. Credit: Bethany Rodgers.

Employees inside the store said they couldn’t comment on the closure.

The announcement of the bookseller’s departure from its three-level location came in March 2017. A Barnes & Noble vice president told Bethesda Beat at the time that the business wanted to extend its lease for the 37,500-square-foot space, but could not come to an agreement with the landlord, Federal Realty Investment Trust.


Federal Realty in July announced that an Anthropologie clothing store would be moving in to replace the Barnes & Noble. There has been no public announcement on when that will happen.

In November, news broke that an Amazon Books would be moving into Bethesda Row on Arlington Road, ensuring that local readers still will have a place to shop.

Sharma said he’s visited an Amazon Books outlet in New York City and noticed that the shelves were largely stocked with titles that had high customer ratings. Shoppers wouldn’t be as likely to stumble on a new author as they might in a Barnes & Noble, he said.


“Amazon Books is still better than nothing,” he said.

Frank Lloyd, another D.C. resident, said he’s been a store customer for 20 years. He often likes to visit Barnes & Noble to sit in the café and read for free, he said, but he’s also bought so many books over the years that his wife has asked him to limit his purchases to presents for his grandchildren.

“I’m going to miss them terribly,” he said of the Barnes & Noble, adding that he’d spent more than an hour in the store Thursday afternoon. “I wanted to be here for the last day, to have a last cup of coffee.”


Frank Lloyd, left, stands outside the Barnes & Noble. Inside the store, customers were browsing through the remaining book selection. Credit: Bethany Rodgers.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at