As news of the closing of the Barnes & Noble store in the Encino Marketplace travels through town, residents are venting anger and disappointment online and threatening to boycott the CVS drugstore that is now planned for the space.
A Facebook page created two weeks ago by resident Robin Permaul has tallied more than 1,800 fans, some of whom have posted comments demanding the mall's owner, Caruso Affiliated, halt the bookstore's departure. Others have posted threats of boycotting the CVS if it moves in.
"It was pretty surprising to me how quick word got out on this," said Permaul, a health and life insurance broker. "I thought, if enough people band together, maybe we can make a difference. Everyone said they wanted a place to be able to vent, so I started a Facebook page. I didn't realize how big this would get."
In the past two weeks people in town have mobilized support for the Barnes & Noble. In addition to commenting online, they have sent e-mails to Rick Caruso, the billionaire president and CEO of Caruso Affiliated.
"Rick Caruso sold out to the highest bidder and never thought about the community," Susie Daniels wrote on the Facebook page. "It's all about the almighty dollar. I love our Barnes & Noble. The last thing we need is another drugstore."
Caruso responded in e-mails to some residents who contacted him, and also on the Facebook page, saying the bookstore's leaving was totally the decision of the Barnes & Noble company.
"There is no doubt that Barnes & Noble is a wonderful bookstore and an asset to the community," Caruso wrote. "I wanted them at Encino Marketplace when we first opened the center in 1994. I have a Barnes & Noble at almost all my other properties. Please know that I have no desire to lose Barnes & Noble. However, the truth is that they have decided to close their Encino store. Last year we reduced their rent to encourage them to stay open, nonetheless, in the end they decided to close due to a lack of sales at this location. I love having bookstores on our properties. They are a great amenity for the community and a great core tenant for us, but unfortunately we must accept that Barnes & Noble recognizes the retail book landscape has changed and is examining store closings, strategic alternatives and even a possible sale. Thank you for taking the time to write us. I am sorry I cannot provide you a better answer; please know we all share your frustration. Sincerely, Rick J. Caruso."
But the CEO's remarks did not silence the protests.
Permaul, 38, said she thinks the community has a fair gripe with Caruso. She posted a second letter template to the Facebook page in response to his explanation. Permaul urged fans of the page to copy the letter and send it to Caruso.
An excerpt of the letter reads:
"Given your tremendous power and influence in the community as well as your long relationship with Barnes & Noble, I am confident that you have the ability to reverse a decision that has been made without consideration of the community's best interest at heart," the letter reads. "Saving Barnes & Noble would not only benefit Encino, but your center as well. If you have been reading the comments on Facebook, it should be clear by now that no one needs or wants another pharmacy in the vicinity."
"As you know," Permaul continued, "Encino is an established community of intelligent, connected, affluent individuals who will not hesitate to speak with their wallets if their voices go unheard. I am appealing to you because you care about our community and because you are the only one who can convince Barnes & Noble to stay open at your location."
Even a representative for City Councilman Paul Koretz responded to the social media brigade's campaign.
Resident Jodie LeVitus Francisco said she sent a letter to Koretz expressing her concern, and she received this response from his planning deputy, Shawn Bayliss:
"Thank you for including us in your message to Mr. Caruso regarding the Barnes & Noble here in Encino," Bayliss said. "There has been a universal feeling of loss with our local bookstore leaving us; many other communities around us also are saddened by losing their local bookstores. The council member certainly has stated many times that he would like for Barnes & Noble to stay in Encino, but we also understand that it is a very difficult time for bookstores with the tough retail economy combined with the specific difficulties facing all book sellers (online books, etc.). We encourage Mr. Caruso to make every effort to keep Barnes & Noble in Encino, but understand that no matter how attractive the offer is, it simply may not be enough. Please feel free to keep us updated on your community's efforts."
Permaul said a Barnes & Noble representative returned her phone call last week, when the Facebook page had only about 400 fans.
"They were very short, but they were clear to point out that they have a good relationship with Caruso," Permaul said. "From a PR standpoint, that's what I expected them to say. But I think they're watching [the Facebook page]. Caruso's watching it and CVS is aware of it too."
"We're certainly aware that there are unhappy residents who are upset that Barnes & Noble is leaving," said director of CVS public relations, Mike DeAngelis. "It's unfortunate, but it has nothing to do with CVS. As I understand it, it's a matter between the landlords and their current tenant, which happens to be Barnes & Noble."
DeAngelis added that CVS has already signed a lease with Caruso Affiliated and the drugstore will be opening sometime in 2011.
Encino Patch left two voicemail messages with Barnes & Noble's communications department requesting comment, but did not receive a response.
Permaul also complained that she and other residents hadn't been informed or consulted about the bookstore's planned closure until after the Encino Neighborhood Council approved CVS' application to move into the space.
In June the neighborhood council approved CVS' application, under the condition that alcohol sales would be allowed only between the hours of 7 a.m. and midnight. A month later, CVS asked the council to make its alcohol-sales hours consistent with those at the nearby Ralphs market, from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. The motion passed 10-6 with two abstentions.
"We weren't aware of the Encino council meeting," Permaul said. "I don't know why we weren't mailed anything. Unless you were touching the [Encino Community Center] you didn't get notice of it."
The neighborhood council's meeting announcements, agendas and minutes are posted on its website. (Encino Patch will be posting the council's meeting agendas and reminders as well.)
Neighborhood council President Louis Krokover said he is not happy the bookstore is leaving.
"As far as how the ENC feels—well, the case matter was presented to us several times over the past six months and when the dust finally settled a majority of the ENC board voted in favor of the new tenant CVS," Krokover said.
"Bottom line is this," he added. "Our community does not like change, whether it is for the good or not so good. Furthermore, our community only chooses to voice their opinions when the hat has already fallen off the head piece."