After the Barnes and Noble store at 1630 Sherman Ave. closed, a new medical facility went into its place. (File photo)

First establishing a foothold in Evanston in the early 1990s, Barnes & Noble bookstore brought a touch of glamour and the prospect of a 24/7 downtown.

But the store, which moved to expanded space, as the first retailer in the Sherman Plaza complex in 2006, has been facing a changing business in recent years.

And COVID-19, while perhaps not the primary factor, may have motivated the company’s decision not to renew its lease, said Paul Zalmezak, the City’s Economic Development Manager.

The store owners recently notified the landlord of their current space at 1630 Sherman Ave. that they would not be renewing their option on the lease for the space.

Barnes & Noble, the nation’s biggest retailer of books, is expected to vacate the space by the end of the month, Mr. Zalmezak said.

Northwestern Medicine, which provides healthcare services, will move into the site after a build out of the space. That company is looking at opening in 2021, Mr. Zalmezak said.

Northwestern Medicine, which is affiliated with the university’s Feinberg School of Medicine, will continue to pay property tax on the space through its lease with its landlord, Mr. Zalmezak said.

Facing a changing market, Barnes & Noble had been exploring different alternatives to its current 30,600-square-foot store, which is spread out over two stories, for at least five years now, Mr. Zalmezak said.

The company was exploring a move into smaller space on the same block’s corner, Mr. Zalmezak said. “They were negotiating with the landlord who had laid out plans for that,” he said.

In the end, though, “it just wasn’t working out for them,” he said, and the store ended plans for a store in the City. Barnes & Noble’s next closest store, which is expected to reopen once some of the social distancing requirements are lifted for businesses, is located about four miles away at the Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie.

“There will be a void in the market because of that,” Mr. Zalmezak said. “We never want to lose a big anchor like that.”

In a possible silver lining, Northwestern will bring employees, doctors and nurses, who ideally patronize downtown businesses, he said.

As for books, Evanston has nine independent booksellers with different specialties, “exceeding the number of Subways or Starbucks,” here, he pointed out.

Barnes & Noble’s arrival in Evanston in the early 1990s at a key downtown retail corner at 1701 Sherman (diagonally across the street from its current location), created excitement at the time.

The store offered longer operating hours and a café and was followed shortly after by a Borders book store, located initially several blocks east on Orrington Ave.

In 2006, Barnes & Noble moved to larger space at its current location, becoming the first retailer to open in the then long-awaited $185 million Sherman Plaza complex.

In its larger space, the retailer offered an expanded collection of nearly 200,000 books, music, DVD, and magazines, as well as a café with greater food choices, in line with some in the City’s goal to create a 24/7  downtown.

Barnes & Noble reconfigured the Evanston store in recent years, adding non-book items such as children’s educational toys, to respond to a changing market. The brick-and-mortar bookstore also faced stiff competition from online giants such as Amazon as well from as independent bookstores in some areas making a comeback.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.