It started with a simple request from a store manager to one of her employees: Check under some old shelves to see if there was carpet beneath.
But what came of that request was something entirely unexpected: A startling find that ignited a look back at how one place over a span of 15 years can tie people together and create relationships — including my own.
Store manager Lisa Coiras and her assistant store manager, my husband Peter Bowen, had just finished moving another display in their toys and games department — a shift that was just the latest of many as the book industry has evolved in the past 15 years. Lisa wondered: If they had to move the large, cumbersome units, what would they find underneath?
But what Peter discovered inside one of the fixtures would take them back to the store’s beginning: CDs, VHS tapes and DVDs in a box. The merchandise was unsold from around the time of the store’s grand opening.
Covered in dust and marked with labels the company hasn’t used in over a decade, the box and its contents weren’t intended to be a time capsule.
But they might as well be.
Inside the box:
- “Now That’s What I Call Music! 9” (The compilation series is coming up on its 62nd U.S. edition.)
- “This is the Remix,” by Destiny’s Child
- “Light Up the Land: A Commemorative CD of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games”
- DVD copies of “Donnie Darko,” “Riding in Cars With Boys” and “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”
- A special edition VHS copy of “Moulin Rouge”
I’m not going to lie: The songs found on “Now That’s What I Call Music! 9” were the soundtrack to my later years of high school. I remember belting out a few of them — embarrassingly loud — with friends, including those I met while my sister, Candice, worked at Barnes & Noble from 2003 to 2007.
Two of the most important relationships in my life were born inside that store’s heavy front doors: one of my best friends, Kelly Ramsaran, who worked there from 2003 to 2005; and my husband, who has worked for Barnes & Noble off and on for 12 years.
Lisa has played a major role in all of that. She helped open Barnes & Noble’s Wellington location on a warm, sunny spring day in 2002. She was rehired by the company — she had left for a few years — to be Wellington’s assistant store manager. Lisa said she still remembers that eager crew of new and newly transferred employees, and the influx of merchandise that inevitably came with the opening of a store.
So when Peter walked into the manager’s office on March 22, 2017, with a goofy grin on his face — Lisa calls my husband her “favorite manchild” — and a box full of surprises in his hands, she was both shocked and amused.
Her first thought: “That it had been here a really long time,” she said, laughing.
I asked Lisa if there was one item that stood out to her as a favorite. She thought for a moment before responding.
“I don’t know. I’m not a big ‘Moulin Rouge’ fan,” she said, laughing again — there was a lot of laughter during our conversation.
It’s possible the items ended up under the fixture in the bustle of organizing that preceded the opening of the store’s doors. Several current employees with whom I talked said they could have been overstock, and moved out of the way for other merchandise.
But there’s more to the items Peter found than trying to crack the mystery of how they found their way under a shelving unit where they collected dust for 15 years: They can serve as a reminder of just how much Barnes & Noble as a company has changed.
You have to admit it’s a strange coincidence: Peter found the box under the fixture almost 15 years to the day after the store’s debut.
Each item would have been considered a “new release” in March 2002. Three of the items were released March 19. All were released in the month before the store opened.
“It’s all stuff that’s very much from that time period,” Peter told me. “It’s not like you’re finding a copy of ‘Citizen Kane’ in there. It’s ‘Riding in Cars With Boys’ or ‘Donnie Darko,’ stuff that’s such a product from that time.”
That goes especially for the VHS copy of “Moulin Rouge.” When Peter began working at the store in November of 2005, Barnes & Noble already had stopped selling VHS tapes.
Of all of the products Peter found, “Moulin Rouge” best highlights both the ages of the merchandise and the store.
“It’s a little scary that we’ve been here for 15 years already,” Lisa said. “It feels like yesterday when we opened and were opening things up, putting products out.
“We had a lot more books at that point, so we didn’t have as many toys and games,” she added. “A lot more CDS — and VHS tapes, as you know.”
The merchandise in the box is so old that it’s out of the store’s system. Some employees have expressed interest in trying to sell the items, but that won’t happen, Peter said.
“If a customer wants a copy of one of these, they’ll have to buy it from our website,” he added. “These have been under there for 15 years. They just aren’t listed as stock at our store anymore.”
A lot has changed at the Barnes & Noble in Wellington since 2002: The plaza in which it sits isn’t worth as much money. The store’s hours have shortened, and its closest neighbors have shifted with the economy.
One of the biggest changes is found in the store’s evolution from bookseller to entertainment provider. Barnes & Noble used to be known for its cafes, author events and comfortable chairs, where readers would plop down with a cup of coffee before diving into a novel. The stores now offer educational toys, games and a wide selection of do-it-yourself kits.
The music department isn’t so much music as DVDs, Blu-rays and even vinyl records. Audio books have moved inside the music section, and where those used to be there now sits a display of puzzles.
But much remains the same.
Barnes & Noble continues to serve as a gathering place where parents meet for coffee, students study for tests and work on group projects, people stop by on their lunch breaks to grab food and leaf through magazines, and, yes, books are still sold. The company’s atmosphere of freewheeling faux-library carries on.
The children’s section is still filled with books. The stage where story time is held sits to one side, while a train set still is nestled in a small sitting area across the room.
Adults and teens wander the aisles filled with novels and nonfiction, looking for a best-seller or an indie favorite. On a recent day, an older man sat on a stool near the gardening section, a large book on herbs cracked open in his lap.
And still, the store gives back.
“I think that we’re always going to continue to be here for the community,” Lisa said. “And while our mix may change, our basic premise will not. So we’ll continue to focus on literacy and books, and pushing forward programs with schools and with the community.”
The store plays host to book fairs for local schools, children and parents clogging aisles with eager faces and arms loaded with treasures. And each holiday season, employees rally around the annual book drive, where they encourage customers to donate children’s books that then are dispersed among local classrooms.
Lisa said she recently estimated that over the past 15 years, the store has donated about 100,000 books to area schools.
“It is a program that is near and dear to my heart,” she said.
For Peter, who has left the store and returned there twice to work, there’s something about the work that has been especially fulfilling and kept him coming back.
“You get engaged in a lot of interesting conversations, and you get to meet people from all over,” he said.
Plus, he met his wife there.
“It’s a unique place,” he noted, smiling. “I thought I knew every inch of this store. It just surprised me.”
Kristina Webb is a digital editor for The Palm Beach Post.