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OUR OPINION: Seek, and Grand Forks may find a book superstore

Grand Forks needs a Barnes & Noble or Borders full-service bookstore on 32nd Avenue South. The need has been acute for years, but now that that the city has learned of the pending loss of the two Columbia Mall bookstores, it is painfully sharp.

Grand Forks needs a Barnes & Noble or Borders full-service bookstore on 32nd Avenue South. The need has been acute for years, but now that that the city has learned of the pending loss of the two Columbia Mall bookstores, it is painfully sharp.

What to do?

The situation reminds us of chemical reagents swirling in a beaker. The reagents are poised to combine. They almost "want" to combine. But they don't combine.

What to do in chemical terms? Add a catalyst. A pinch of the right substance at the right time can speed up the reaction and make it complete.

In the Grand Forks bookstore case, the catalyst could be the focused attention and salesmanship of city and UND leaders as well as the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.

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Drawing a big, upscale bookstore is an economic development issue, and the city should treat it as such.

The reason Grand Forks needs such a bookstore is simple: Grand Forks is a college town, and great bookstores -- preferably plural, but book lovers would settle for one -- are a hallmark of great college towns.

Grand Forks' college town status is the core of its 21st century future. It's worth taking action to build up that rep, because when teachers, professors, engineers, physicians and other professionals weight the costs and benefits of moving to Grand Forks, the city's college-town identity is a huge part of the draw.

Nothing against the UND Bookstore, which now is run by Follett Education Group; it was a Barnes & Noble college store until a few months ago. Regardless of ownership, the store's location on the UND campus hurts its wider appeal. The location pushes managers to focus on textbooks and UND clothing and gift items, not mass-market books.

Meanwhile, the fact that Fargo, Bismarck and Minot all support Barnes & Noble superstores suggest that the market here is primed.

That's where city leaders can step in. No, we're not talking about offering economic incentives, at least not yet. (Although it would be worth asking Minot how it drew a Barnes & Noble superstore; the store in Dakota Square Mall opened in early 2008.)

We're talking about pitching the city and its market readiness to support such a store. If Barnes & Noble and/or Borders need to be convinced, then let the city make the effort and do some convincing. That's not a sure fire approach by any means; the bookstore chains make the final call.

But salesmanship counts, as every economic developer knows. The city's leadership team routinely lobbies Northwest Airlines (now Delta) for more and better-scheduled flights; and now and then, the lobbying pays off.

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Leaders now should get to know the bookstore decision-makers as well.

Columbia Mall's presence is a selling point for individuals and businesses considering Grand Forks. So are the rest of the shopping opportunities in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

A great bookstore has a place in that lineup, one with special appeal to the professionals the region especially wants to attract. It belongs on the local economic development wish list, not at but probably near the top.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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