The Italians Who Built America: Leonard Riggio
Leonard Riggio was born on February 28, 1941, in the Little Italy section of Manhattan. His mother was a dressmaker and his father, Stephen Riggio, was a prize fighter who beat Rocky Graziano twice in his career. At age four he moved to the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, where his home housed an extended family of aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
A gifted child, Riggio skipped two grades and at age 12, entered Brooklyn Technical High School. He later went on to attend New York University (NYU); while there, he founded the ‘Student Book Exchange,’ which he would eventually develop into a leading retail bookstore company.
In 1971 he made a bid for the failing Barnes & Noble bookstore on Fifth Avenue and 18th Street. Riggio offered $750,000 for this last remaining store of the chain begun in 1873 by Charles Montgomery Barnes and G. Clifford Noble. The offer was eagerly accepted and Riggio immediately overhauled the musty old shop, initiating, among other innovations, a humorous advertising campaign to attract shoppers. He continued to acquire hundreds of bookstores and turned them into the Barnes & Noble “superstore” concept, with the trademark coffee shop and reading chairs.
By the end of the 20th century, Riggio had built the largest book-selling company in the entire world. Riggio is also heavily involved in philanthropy, supporting NYU, art museums, and residents of New Orleans who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. Today, he serves as the Executive Chairman of Barnes & Noble, which is a Fortune 500 Company, with 640 retail stores in the United States.