QUEENS — Forest Hills residents won't give up their Barnes & Noble without a fight.
The 70-00 Austin St. store, which has been open for more than two decades, may close next year if the book chain and the landlord can't come to an agreement over its lease, which expires in January.
As negotiations continue, residents launched an online petition on Friday addressed to Barnes & Noble, its landlord Muss Development and local elected officials — urging them to keep the store open.
By Monday, the petition was signed by nearly 2,500 people.
Local historian Michael Perlman said that “the outpouring of supporters from the community and nearby neighborhoods is phenomenal.
"This proves that locals strongly wish to see the Forest Hills branch of Barnes & Noble around for at least another 20 years,” he said.
Some residents on a neighborhood group Facebook page suggested organizing a "buy in" on May 31, where community members would agree to buy a book from the store that day to show support for the business.
“B&N is our only option to stay in contact with physical books,” said Michele Dore, a member of the Facebook group, who noted that many residents were enthusiastic about the "buy in" idea.
“We all have the option to go online but for many of us, touching the books, browsing the pages is important,” she said in an email.
Over the years, the bookstore has become a popular hangout for local students and families, she said
“You can't use an online store to help you to teach our children the love of books and the interest in reading,” Dore said. “It is essential.”
On Friday, the chain confirmed that it's currently still negotiating its lease with Muss Development.
David Deason, the vice president of development at Barnes & Noble, said the company wants to keep the Forest Hills store open, but only "at rents very close to what we are currently paying.”
Barnes & Noble was given an option to extend the lease for five more years, "which they did not exercise," said Jeff Kay, chief operating officer at Muss Development.
Local Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz said she “would love [the store] to stay open, no question about it," but pointed out that many bookshops have been struggling as more and more customers opt to buy books online.
“I don’t know so much if it’s the rent as much as it is the fact that less people are going into the store,” she said.
Koslowitz said she is planning to reach out to the landlord to discuss the issue.
If the Forest Hills location closes, the entire borough will be left with only one Barnes & Noble store in Bayside. The chain closed its outpost on Union Turnpike in Fresh Meadows last year.