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Testing the waters with area shoppers
Central Park a test kitchen for retailers

 The Cheesecake Factory desserts are available at the new Barnes & Noble store in the Central Park business district. The new bookstore - in the former Borders location - opened today, Nov. 7, 2012. (Robert A. Martin/The Free Lance-Star) ------ 2COL COLOR
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Date published: 11/10/2012

Central Park is serving as a test kitchen of sorts for at least three large U.S. retailers.

Barnes & Noble, Christmas Tree Shops and Best Buy are trying out new concepts at their stores in the Fredericksburg shopping center. Shoppers' reactions will help shape the retailers' future strategies.

The Barnes & Noble store that opened Wednesday in the former Borders space across from Target is the first that the book-focused retailer has opened in more than two years. The store's modern design and layout are part of a new concept for the Barnes & Noble chain, said store manager Becky Anderson.

Barnes & Noble's e-reader and tablet brand, the Nook, is emphasized at the store, demonstrating the company's efforts to expand its digital business to compete with Amazon.com and others. There is a large section of children's books and toys, and many kid-focused book readings and other interactive events are planned. The cafe sells Starbucks coffee and Cheesecake Factory desserts.

The store has an open layout and low shelves, which make it easy to get a good feel for the entire selection when a customer first walks through the glass doors. Large flat-screen televisions promote new books and hot sellers. About 80 people work at the new store, and more people will be hired.

Not far away from the Barnes & Noble store, workers are finishing up construction to transform the former Shoppers Food space into the new home of two retailers expected to open in the next few weeks: Buy Buy Baby and And That.

Christmas Tree Shops, which itself is a subsidiary of Bed Bath & Beyond, will own and operate the And That store. The merchandise and layout will be similar to what is found at Christmas Tree Shops. Only the name will be different.

Christmas Tree Shops sells a constantly changing array of bargain-priced items including home furnishings, housewares, clothing and gifts. But people outside the company's core New England market have had some confusion about the brand because of its seasonal-sounding name, said spokeswoman Michele Watkins.

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