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FounderAugust Brentano
Defunct1983 (as a separate company)
2011 (as part of Borders)
Fateabsorbed into Borders Group in the U.S.; liquidated in the U.S.
ProductsBooks, magazines, comic books, maps, calendars, paintings, stationery

Brentano's was an American bookstore chain with numerous locations in the United States.

As of the 1970s, there were three Brentano's in New York: the Fifth Avenue flagship store at Rockefeller Center, one in Greenwich Village, and one in White Plains. There was a store in the Bergen Mall (Paramus, N.J.) which closed as the Short Hills, N.J., store was being built. There were Boston-area stores in Chestnut Hill and the Prudential Center, and another in Austin, Texas. There were also three stores in Southern California: in Westwood Village, Beverly Hills, and Costa Mesa. There were two stores outside of Washington, D.C.: one in the Seven Corners shopping center in Falls Church, Virginia, and another in Prince Georges Plaza in Maryland.

Brentano's was owned by Macmillan in the 1970s and early 1980s, before being bought out by three of Brentano's higher ranking employees. Soon after, Brentano's became a part of the Waldenbooks subsidiary of Borders Group, Inc., an Ann Arbor, Michigan–based book and music retailer.


Brentano's was founded as an independent bookstore in New York City in 1853 by August Brentano, who established a newsstand in front of the New York Hotel.

The first branch store for the company was opened in Washington, D.C., in 1883.[1] A year later, a second branch store was opened in Chicago in 1884.[2]

Simon Brentano served as president of the firm until his death in 1915.[3] He was replaced by his brother Arthur.

By 1928, Brentano's had four stores outside of New York City, in Washington, Chicago, London, and Paris.[4] On the eve of the Great Depression, the firm expanded rapidly to become the largest bookstore chain in the nation with four stores in New York City, plus single stores in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington.[5] Unfortunately, the firm acquired a lot of debt in the process and its creditors forced the company to reorganize in 1930 while still allowing the Brentano family to manage the chain.[5] Even though the company continued to have cash flow problems, the company went ahead and opened its tenth store within the United States in Pittsburgh in 1930.[6]

The creditor-imposed reorganization plan of 1930 did not solve the cash flow problem. In March 1933, Brentano's was forced by its publishers and banks to file for bankruptcy.[7][8][9]

During the bankruptcy sale, financier (and later U.S. ambassador) Stanton Griffis and Chicago bookstore owner Adolf Kroch bought the firm.[10] Griffis became the chairman of the board of directors while keeping Arthur Brentano on as president. For his part in the bankruptcy sale, Kroch received the Chicago branch store and the exclusive right to use and control the Brentano's name within the states of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin.[11][12] Kroch kept his Brentano's store in Chicago as a separate subsidiary of his existing Kroch's bookstore until 1954 when the stores were combined to form Kroch's and Brentano's.[13] Kroch succeeded in preventing MacMillan, Waldenbooks, and Borders from using the Brentano's name within the Chicago area market.[14]

In 1944, Arthur Brentano died and was replaced as president by his son, Arthur Brentano Jr.[15][16] Five years later, Arthur Brentano, Jr. was replaced as president by Nixon Griffis, the son of Stanton Griffis.[17]

The publishing company Crowell Collier acquired Brentano's in 1962.[18][19] At the time of the acquisition, Brentano's had 16 stores located in 5 states plus the District of Columbia.[20] First store in the rapid expanding and lucrative Southern California market was opened in the affluent suburb of Beverly Hills in 1972.[21]

Two decades later, the corporate parent Macmillan, which had acquired Brentano's upon merger with Crowell Collier in 1961, decided to divest itself of Brentano's by selling the retail chain to Brentano's management in 1981.[22][23] At the time of the sale, Brentano's had 28 stores[24] with locations that had included Boston, Washington, Atlanta, Toronto, Dallas, San Francisco and San Diego.[25] Unfortunately, the new management was forced to file for bankruptcy less than a year later in 1982 and finally liquidated in 1984.[26][27][28]

As part of the liquidation sale, the Waldenbooks subsidiary of Kmart acquired three stores that were located in Beverly Hills, Costa Mesa, and St. Louis with the original intention of converting the stores to the Waldenbooks brand.[29] After remodeling, while keeping the Brentano's name, Waldenbooks discovered that the stores were bringing in more money than equivalent Waldenbooks of the same age so they decided to keep the Brentano's brand and expand the brand to other upscale neighborhoods as the upscale bookstore brand for the Walden Book division.

In 1992, Kmart acquired Borders.[30] At that time, it kept Brentano's in the separate Waldenbooks division until the formation of the Borders-Walden Group[31] that was done just prior to the Borders Group being spun off as an independent company in 1994.[32] Under Borders, the Brentano's stores were still managed by Waldenbooks. With increased competition during the 1990s and 2000s from superstores and Internet stores, Borders was forced to close the money-losing Brentano and Waldenbooks stores.[33][34] On 18 July 2011, Borders Group filed for bankruptcy and closed all remaining Brentano's stores.[35]

Stores outside of the United States[edit]


At various times in its history, Brentano's had stores outside of the United States. Under the leadership of Arthur Brentano, Brentano's had stores in Paris and London. Although the Brentano family owned the European stores, the stores were not a part of the same corporation that had owned the American stores and were not affected by the 1933 bankruptcy.[7] It is not known when the Brentano family sold its interest in either store.

Both of these stores were frequented by American expatriates. Brentano's also used these stores as a way to distribute American newspapers and books by American authors that were not well-known outside of the United States, many of which were reprinted in Europe by Brentano's, to Europeans.

According to an 1887 New York Times article, the Paris store (Brentano's S.A.) was first opened on the Avenue de l'Opéra in 1887 by Arthur Brentano.[36] This store was closed during the German occupation[15] but was one of the first American owned businesses to reopen after the Liberation of Paris.[37]

The Brentano's on Avenue de l'Opéra in Paris closed in 2009[38][39] but was bought and reopened in 2010 by Iranian businessman Farock Sharifi.[40][41]

The London store (Brentano's Ltd.) first opened in 1889.[42] When that store opened, there were stores in New York, Chicago, Washington and Paris. According in a 1927 article in the Washington Post, the London store might have been replaced by a publishing office by that time.[43]


Under Macmillan, Brentano's opened its first and only Canadian store in Toronto in 1975.[44] This store had the distinction of being the only American-owned bookstore with a physical location within Canada. This store was closed shortly after Brentano's had filed for bankruptcy in 1982.[28]


From its headquarters at 586 Fifth Avenue, Brentano's became a publisher, with a specialization in French literature that led it to publish under the imprint "Éditions Brentano's" many titles by French writers in exile during the Vichy France period.

In an attempt to prevent possible liquidation of the company, the publishing department was sold to Coward-McCann in 1933.[45]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1943 film Heaven Can Wait, Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) met his future wife Martha Strable (Gene Tierney) in Brentano's.

Brentano's was featured in an episode of Mad About You. The episode featured Barbara Feldon playing a novelist in which her character was doing a book signing.

Brentano's was featured prominently in a few episodes of Seinfeld, most notably "The Bookstore".[46]

Brentano's also appeared in the film Norman... Is That You?

Brentano's was mentioned in William Dean Howells' A Hazard of New Fortunes (chapter 10) and F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited",[47] Tender Is the Night (chapter XX), and This Side of Paradise (chapter 2).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Brentano & Co.: A Washington House Rivalling Its Famous New York Compeer". The Washington Post. 7 March 1883. p. 4. ProQuest 137889255. The establishment recently opened by Messrs. A. Brentano & Co., on the corner of Eleventh street and Pennsylvania avenue, seems to fill exact desideratum which had long been needed at the National Capital.
  2. ^ "Brentano Brothers Ad". Chicago Daily Tribune. 22 May 1884. p. 12. ProQuest 172845135. Brentano Brothers, Booksellers, Publishers, Importers, Stationers, and Newsdealers. Special Announcement. We respectively inform the public that we have opened a branch store at 101 State St., one door south of Washington, which is similar in all respects to our New York and Washington establishments.
  3. ^ "Simon Brentano, Publisher, Dead: Head of Noted Firm Was the Oldest "Buff" of New York Fire Department. Expert on Fire Fighting Chiefs of Biggest Cities Often Consulted Him as Authority -- Began Career as Newsboy". The New York Times. 16 February 1915. p. 9. ProQuest 97686084.
  4. ^ "Brentano's". New York Herald Tribune. 15 January 1928. p. J14. ProQuest 1113424643. Now "Brentano's" on West Forty-seventh street probably the foremost bookshop in the world. Over a million books are kept in stock, and there are branch shops in Washington, Chicago, Paris, London. Arthur Brentano, nephew of the founder, is senior member of the present organization.
  5. ^ a b "Book Publishers Plan to Control Brentano Stores: New York and Boston Committee to Co-operate in Financial Reorganization; Laid to Overexpansion; Members of Family to Remain as Company Officers". New York Herald Tribune. 17 February 1930. p. 13. ProQuest 1113117107. Because of threatening inability to meet financial obligations during a period of too rapid expansion, control of Brentano's, the largest retail book house in the country, is about to pass into the hands of New York and Boston publishers. Management of the business will remain in the hands of the Brentano family. Brentano's operates four bookstores in New York City and others in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington.
  6. ^ "Brentano's Rents in Pittsburgh". The New York Times. 21 January 1930. p. 48. ProQuest 99072153.
  7. ^ a b "Brentano Suit Asks Receiver in Bankruptcy: 7 Publisher-Creditors Join in Move to Conserve Assets of Book Company Liquidation Not Planned Petitioners Avow Willingness to Advance Cash". New York Herald Tribune. 31 March 1933. p. 13. ProQuest 1221791977. A petition in bankruptcy was files in United States District Court yesterday by seven publisher-creditors against Bretano's, Inc., a book-selling corporation with five stores in New York and five branches in other cities. Before the bankruptcy petition was filed retiring creditor-trustees of the corporation expressed a fear that possible liquidation of the corporation expressed fear that possible liquidation would be harmful to the general book-selling industry. Mr. Bretano spoke with pride of his five stores in New York and branches in Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Washington. He told of the branch in Paris, which is a separate corporation.
  8. ^ "Brentano's Is Put into Receivership: Publishers Filing Bankruptcy Petition Voice Intention to Keep Concern Alive. Liabilities Are $511,445 Assets of 80-Year-Old Chain of Bookstores Listed at $883,305 -- $1,500,000 Sales Last Year". The New York Times. 31 March 1933. p. 21. ProQuest 100569240. Brentano's Inc., the world's largest retail book chain, was thrown into receivership yesterday, but every effort will be made to keep the business alive. Much more will be realized for creditors upon sale of the assets as a going business than in a piecemeal liquidation. The business is eighty years old. It was started by August Bretano. His nephews, August, Arthur and Simon Brentano, bought the business in 1877. The business was hit hard in the depression of 1893 and in 1898 was in serious financial difficulties. In 1899, the company was reorganized.
  9. ^ "Brentano's Files in Bankruptcy". The New York Times. 28 April 1933. p. 20. ProQuest 100687659. Brentano's Inc., the world's largest retail book chain, was thrown into receivership yesterday, but every effort will be made to keep the business alive. Much more will be realized for creditors upon sale of the assets as a going business than in a piecemeal liquidation. The business is eighty years old. It was started by August Bretano. His nephews, August, Arthur and Simon Brentano, bought the business in 1877. The business was hit hard in the depression of 1893 and in 1898 was in serious financial difficulties. In 1899, the company was reorganized.
  10. ^ "Brentano's, Inc. Is Sold to Kroch, Chicago Dealer: $121,000 Bid Accepted by Creditors, Although N.Y. Firm Offered $9,000 More; Sale May Be Protested; Member of Bankrupt Book House to Continue With It". New York Herald Tribune. 8 June 1933. p. 19. ProQuest 1114839524. Brentano's, Inc., the international book-selling firm, passed into the hands of Adolf Kroch, of Chicago, one of the largest book dealers in the country, at a bankruptcy sale yesterday. The Bretano family, it is understood, still be identified with the firm in executive capacities, and the business is to carry on in much the same way as in the past, according to Mr. Kroch. [T]he desire of the creditors, most of whom were publishers, to see the business go to another book-dealer who had been twenty-five years in the business and who had strong financial backing, had influenced his decision. This financial backing, it was learned later, came from Stanton Griffis, a partner in the firm Hemphill, Noyes & Co.
  11. ^ Babcock, Frederic (21 November 1954). "Hail Kroch's & Brentano's Giant Store: New Kroch's & Brentano's". Chicago Daily Tribune. pp. g7, g13. ProQuest 178804491. Hailed as "the world's largest book store," Kroch's & Brentano's will open for business tomorrow morning at 29 S. Wabash Av., Chicago. It will occupy three and one-half floors and cover 40,000 square feet. In 1933, at the invitation of American publishers, Mr. Kroch acquired the Chicago branch of Brentano's, Inc., "Booksellers to the World," and the right to use that name in Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
  12. ^ Quinn, T.J. (29 December 1997). "Walden Book Company, Inc. and Kroch's & Brentano's, Inc. v. Brenntano Co., Ltd" (PDF). United States Patent and Trademark Office, Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. pp. 2–4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  13. ^ Chase, Al (1 October 1953). "Kroch's plans big new store at Brentano's: Moving in '54 from Michigan Av". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. d7. ProQuest 178600144. The first of the year a new corporation, Kroch's & Brentano's, Inc., will succeed Kroch's Bookstores, Inc. It will spend $400,000 to rebuild and modernize the Brentano book store at 29 S. Wabash Av., owned by Kroch's Bookstores several years, and to enlarge the present 12,000 square feet of floor space to 40,000 square feet.
  14. ^ "How Kroch's got its start". Chicago Sun-Times (Five Star Sports Final ed.). 27 May 1990. p. 56. The Brentano's name was added in 1933, when Adolph Kroch and an investment banker bought the bankrupt New York bookstore chain, then Kroch's archrival in Chicago. Kroch's has since sold the right to use the Brentano's name to K mart, with the caveat that they can't use it anywhere in the Midwest. For that reason, K mart has put the Coopersmith name on the three bookstores its Waldenbooks chain owns here.
  15. ^ a b Tribune, Special to the Herald (30 January 1944). "Arthur Brentano Is Dead at 85; Head of Brentano's Book Stores". New York Herald Tribune. p. 33. ProQuest 1266871638. There are now sixteen Brentano's stores, including those in New York, Hartford, Conn., Philadelphia and Washington and a London office of the firm. There also was a Brentano store in Paris until the French capitulation
  16. ^ "Arthur Brentano, Bookseller, Dead: Head of Largest Retail Outlet of Kind in World Started as Newsboy With Firm in 1873". The New York Times. 30 January 1944. p. 38. ProQuest 107031975. Arthur Brentano, president of Brentano's, Inc., 586 Fifth Avenue, New York, owners of the largest retail bookselling business in the world, died here today at his home after an illness of six months.
  17. ^ "Brentano's Book Stores Elect a New President". The New York Times. 4 November 1949. p. 43. ProQuest 105909971.
  18. ^ "Crowell Buying Brentano's, N.Y. Book Retailer". Chicago Daily Tribune. 5 April 1962. p. d7. ProQuest 183140935). The Crowell-Collier Publishing company today announced that it has signed a contract to buy the century old Brentano's, Inc., which operates in five states and the District of Columbia. (Kroch's & Brentano's, Inc., Chicago, is in no way related to Bretano's, Inc., and is not affected by the purchase.
  19. ^ Fowle, Farnsworth (5 April 1962). "Crowell-Collier Buys Brentano's And Will Run It as Subsidiary: Brentano's, Dealers in Books--Leather-Bound to Paper-Backed". The New York Times. p. 35. ProQuest 116066909. The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company signed a contract to purchase Bretano's, Inc., booksellers here since 1853. The new owners said they planned to operate the sixteen Brentano's stores as a wholly owned subsidiary without and changes in management or policies.
  20. ^ "Literati: Crowell's Brentano's Buy". Variety. Vol. 226, no. 8. 18 April 1962. p. 68. ProQuest 962750419. Crowell-Collier has bought Brentano's, which has, besides the New York Store, 15 outlets in five states and the District of Columbia.
  21. ^ "Brentano's Getting 1st Area Store". Los Angeles Times. 26 November 1972. p. i10. ProQuest 157202109.
  22. ^ Pace, Eric (25 July 1981). "Officers May Buy Brentano's". The New York Times.
  23. ^ "Macmillan Completes Sale of Brentano's Bookstore Unit". The Wall Street Journal. 4 August 1981. p. 39. ProQuest 134615043.
  24. ^ Emblidge, David (June 2014). "Brentano's: Books Afloat on a Sinking Ship". Publishing Research Quarterly. 30 (2): 185–194. doi:10.1007/s12109-014-9348-5. ProQuest 1526685138. New York-based Brentano’s Bookstore (1850–1996) demonstrated growth and resilience when the economy or their business went up or down, but Brentano’s never adopted the deep discounting that became a modus operandi for American booksellers and book clubs from the 1930s onwards and especially after World War II. Resistance to deep discounting spelled doom for Brentano’s, particularly when Barnes and Noble became a competitor in the 1980s. Over many decades, Brentano’s experimented successfully with innovative retailing techniques, including bookstores on ocean liners plying Atlantic routes, serving upscale, multilingual, international readers. The on-land bookstore chain, in several cities, peaked at 28 stores in the 1980s and was known for its well read, impeccably dressed, courteous staff, setting a model of effective handselling. Tension between appealing to rarefied tastes of elite consumers vs. meeting practical demands of ordinary shoppers manifested in Brentano’s bookselling tactics. Conglomeration in US publishing eventually dissolved Brentano’s publishing operation as well.
  25. ^ "Executives Buy Brentano's". The Boston Globe (FIRST ed.). 5 August 1981. p. 1. ProQuest 294084609. Brentano's, the prestigious, 128-year-old bookstore chain, has been bought from MacMillan, Inc., the publishers, by three Brentano's executives. In addition to its well-known Fifth Avenue bookstore in Manhattan and seven other shops in the New York City area, Brentano's operates stores in Boston, Washington, Atlanta, Toronto, Dallas, San Francisco and San Diego.
  26. ^ Yoshihara, Nancy (22 May 1982). "Brentano Bookstore Chain Files Bankruptcy Petition". Los Angeles Times. p. 18. ProQuest 153135191. Brentano's, a 129-year-old bookstore chain, filed for protection from creditors under federal bankruptcy laws Friday and disclosed plans to close half of its 28 stores nationwide. Brentano's has been losing money for years. Brentano's stores in Beverly Hills and on Fifth Avenue in New York City are major profit centers for the chain. The chain has been troubled for most of the last decade because of stiff competition and rising costs.
  27. ^ "Brentano's Sells All 28 Bookstores Throughout the United States". Los Angeles Times. 14 August 1983. p. i18. ProQuest 153556121. Brentano's completed the sale of all 28 stores of its bookstores through the United States to a number of undisclosed purchasers. Among the major transactions is the sale of three stores at the South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa; Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills, and Plaza Frontenac, St. Louis, Mo., for a total of $900,000.
  28. ^ a b Pace, Eric (22 May 1982). "Brentano's Bankruptcy Filing". The New York Times. pp. 2, 41. ProQuest 424363300. The Brentano's bookstore chain, which began as a Manhattan newsstand in 1853, filed for protection under the bankruptcy laws yesterday and said that it intended to close half its 28 stores. The chain operates in six states and Toronto.
  29. ^ Cox, Meg (15 November 1989). "Mass Marketers of Books Aim to Be Class Marketers: Comparing Best Sellers". The Wall Street Journal. p. B1. ProQuest 135405363. The chief executive officer of Waldenbooks, Harry Hoffman, says he initially planned to convert the three Brentano's stores he bought in 1984 to Waldenbooks shops. But the childhood memory of his mother praising the extra service there gave him pause. So he revamped one old Brentano's store in St. Louis; when it re-opened, annual sales exceeded $1 million, well above the sales for a new Waldenbooks.
  30. ^ "Kmart to Purchase Borders Bookstores Chain". The New York Times. 3 October 1992.
  31. ^ Knauer, Orren F. (28 February 1994). "Kmart Corporation announces Borders-Walden Group 1993 results". PR Newswire (Press release). p. 1. ProQuest 450079808. Kmart Corporation today announced 1993 sales and operating results for the Borders-Walden Group, representing Kmart's retail book subsidiaries, Borders and Walden Book Company, which have been combined to form the new retail bookstore group. The Borders-Walden Group operates 44 Borders stores in 21 states and 1,216 Waldenbooks stores in 50 states.
  32. ^ "Kmart to Sell Stakes in Unit". The New York Times. 5 January 1994.
  33. ^ DeWitt, Jennifer (3 January 2005). "Brentano's closing its books at NorthPark". Quad-City Times. Davenport, Iowa.
  34. ^ "Brentano's closing downtown". Cincinnati Business Journal. 15 January 2009.
  35. ^ Schorpp, Doug (18 July 2011). "All Waldenbooks, Borders stores closing". Quad-City Times. Davenport, Iowa.
  36. ^ "A Surprise for Parisians.: Brentano to Open A Bookstore in the Gay Capital". The New York Times. 17 October 1887. p. 8. ProQuest 94521032.
  37. ^ "Brentano's to Reopen in Paris". New York Herald Tribune. 21 February 1945. p. 15. ProQuest 1269963270.
  38. ^ Rosenberg, Susan; Queval, Alain (15 June 2009). "Brentano's Paris To Finally Close". book2book/ Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Archived from the original on 20 June 2009. Retrieved 7 December 2009.
  39. ^ Kehe, Marjorie (23 June 2009). "Brentano's Paris shuts its doors". The Christian Science Monitor.
  40. ^ "Paris American bookshop to reopen". RFI. 17 February 2010. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  41. ^ "Brentano's in Paris to reopen -- the rich get richer". The Baltimore Sun. 9 February 2010.
  42. ^ "Literary Notes". Detroit Free Press. 9 February 1889. p. 3. ProQuest 561978918. Brentano's of New York, Chicago, Washington and Paris, announce the opening of an establishment in London, at 430 Strand.
  43. ^ "Brentano's Will Open New Store Tomorrow: Third Change for Famous Book Firm Branch First Here in 1884. To New Baker Building". The Washington Post. 16 January 1927. p. 18. ProQuest 149823730. Brentano's book store, frequented by Washington book lovers since 1884, and patronized by every President for more than 40 years, tomorrow morning, for the third time in its history, will change quarters, when it opens for business in the recently completed Reid S. Baker building. Washington's first Brentano shop was established in 1884 on Pennsylvania Avenue, by Arthur Brentano, now president of the firm. Fifteen years ago the shop was moved to Twelfth and F streets northwest, where it remained until present change. Shops are maintained by the firm in New York, Chicago and Paris, with a publishing branch in London. Two stores now are maintained in New York.
  44. ^ French, William (25 September 1979). "William French Publishing takeovers test Tories". The Globe and Mail. p. 16. ProQuest 386957802. There's a certain irony in the position of Brentano's bookstore. The store, located in the Thomson Building on the south side of Queen Street, across from Civic Square, is the only American-owned bookstore in Canada. When the chain announced its intention in 1975 to open the store, nationalist publishing groups lobbied Ottawa to keep it out (a tricky proposition, because two Canadian chains, Classics and Coles, are allowed to operate freely in the United States).
  45. ^ "Coward-McCann Buys Book List of Brentano's: Publishing Department Disposed of to Enable Firm to Concentrate on Selling Shaw Works Not Included Business Started 50 Years Ago With DeLuxe Editions". New York Herald Tribune. 3 February 1933. p. 13. ProQuest 1237333298.
  46. ^
  47. ^ F. Scott Fitzgerald. Saturday Evening Post, 21 February 1931.

External links[edit]