Millennial and Gen Z nostalgia bring back book sales, independent bookstores and Barnes & Noble

Bookstore chains are reappearing thanks to the younger generations.

They’ve rebounded during the pandemic, Alexandra Lange wrote in a recent Bloomberg article, citing a number of statistics: Book sales are up 13% year-on-year, more than 172 independent bookstores have opened in the United States last year, and Barnes & Noble is growing rapidly. Gen Zers who discuss book trends on TikTok and millennials who are nostalgic for the big-box bookstores they grew up with have helped turn this new page in the book business, Lange reported.

She said these book chains “were about access and freedom,” bringing books to rural America, serving as a hangout for teens, and helping young adults understand who they were. “These private enterprises provided housing for a wide range of people, in terms of class, race and age,” she writes.

It makes sense that young adults yearn for that comfort in a pandemic world. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling, especially in a struggling economy.

“For many people, especially young adults or those without a financial safety net, poor economic conditions raise fears about being able to meet financial obligations like paying rent or student debt,” Krystine Batcho, a Le Moyne College professor, psychologist and nostalgia researcher, told Insider a few months ago. “Nostalgia is a refuge, as people look back to the feelings of comfort, security and love they enjoyed in their past.”

While anyone can feel nostalgic during tough economic times, it can be more powerful for those in an emerging adult state than in the limbo of their twenties between adolescence and full maturity.

“It’s a bittersweet time when you trade the innocence of childhood for the independence of adulthood, not having experienced the more disappointing aspects of social behavior yet,” Batcho said.

For Gen Z, 90s bookstores are a symbol of a nostalgic, pre-social era they never knew. Michael Pankowski, the founder of marketing consultancy Gen Z Crimson Connection, previously told Insider that the effect of the pandemic on the person has made the digital world everything Gen Z had. “So we’re nostalgic for a time before the internet became so ubiquitous,” he said.

But the common thread of youthful nostalgia is that it fosters a sense of belonging. And that’s exactly what chain stores are offering to millennials and Gen Z.