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While Barnes & Nobles close, Amazon is opening real live bookstores

A luxury shopping complex on New York’s Columbus Circle opens to a new tenant Thursday: Amazon.

While some may be excited that this is an “Amazon Store,” similar to Apple and Microsoft’s respective flagship stores located just blocks away, Amazon says its goal for the new store is the same as it was when the online retail giant first started  two decades ago: To sell books.

“We have this 20 years of information about books and ratings, and we have millions and millions of customers who are passionate,” said Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books. “It really is a different way to surface great books.”

The Columbus Circle store is Amazon’s seventh physical retail store and the first of three planned for the New York area before the end of the summer. A second shop is planned for 34th street in midtown Manhattan with a third set to open in the nearby Westfield Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, NJ.

The 4,000 square-foot-store features roughly 3,000 books, all with their covers facing out in order to better to “communicate their own essence,” Cast says. The company’s recommendation system makes a physical appearance in the bookstore through an “if you like this” section, which combines the data Amazon gathers on the books listed with human curators to recommend new books. To someone who walks in to browse, it feels like a high-tech Barnes and Noble.

Physical bookstores, including the large Borders chain, have reeled with the rise Amazon’s online sales engine and e-books. So the decision to open bookstores may seem perplexing. In fact, the new store occupies a space not far from where a since-bankrupt Borders bookstore once stood when it was in Columbus Circle.