Before the Apple Store became the best “pick up” spot in New York, there was Barnes & Noble. Its spacious square footage quickly became a mash up of date location and library. It seems digital times have made the bookstore – even a giant bookstore – a bit of an albatross. But according to William Lynch, Barnes and Noble’s chief executive, the Trojan horse is the new $249 Nook Tablet announced today to draw readers closer to Barnes & Noble as a destination that understands readers and their needs.

The Nook Tablet represents the evolution of the dedicated book reader and competes, cage-match-style, with the Kindle Fire. The 7” tablet offers a low glare, low reflection hi-resolution read. It weighs under a pound, supports HD video and offers readers extras like pre-loaded Hulu for streaming media. According to B&N the battery can last for an impressive 150 hours of reading, or 9 hours of video.

But the specs are only the dressing, it’s the stocked icons in this Nook that will be most intriguing to reading families. In addition to the complete Barnes & Noble bookstore experience, the tablet ships with Pandora and Netflix. Parents can add their own voice to any kid’s book in the collection and have their children play back the book – a bedtime story for traveling parents.

In addition to appealing to the core reading family, Barnes & Noble is also keeping their platform open and available to other devices, a wise move. Other less expensive tablet readers like the Pandigital Nova are also offering tablet solutions using the Barnes & Noble store.

The new Nook is a tad more expensive than the Kindle Fire, and both rely on WiFi – not 3G service. But as anyone who’s ever looked for a book can attest there are two things that set Nook apart from the Fire. One is the ad-free content. The second is the in-store support. Shopping for a book online is often frustrating. “What was the name?” “No, that’s not the one I meant.” Now imagine you can stop in at the friendly B&N and get some help, or a latte, or a book signing. The Nook at its best will build a reading community that spans the physical and virtual realities. If not, where will the non – bar hoppers have to take their dates?

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