Borders Shutdown Shakes up Maine’s Bookstore Industry — MPBN

Borders Shutdown Shakes up Maine’s Bookstore Industry.

07/20/2011   Reported By: Josie Huang
It happened so fast. On Monday, the book chain Borders announced it was closing. By Friday, its bankruptcy should be finalized, and liquidation sales will begin at its stores, including locations in Bangor, Brunswick and South Portland, and a Waldenbooks it owns in Auburn. The rapid loss of four such large bookstores is shaking up the business of books in Maine, with independent book sellers eyeing a chance to capture more market share.
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IMAG1134Stuart Gersen, co-owner of Longfellow Books in downtown Portland

“We need to sharpen our pencils and get cranking right away,” says Brett Wickard, who owns Bull Moose, a music and video games retailer that last year started selling books at its Scarborough and Bangor locations.

To lure Borders customers to Bull Moose, the company has bought ads on Google. “So if they’re searching for, like, books, Borders, that kind of thing, it will come up with our messsage, so we’re going to reach people that way,” he says.

Wickard says the demise of Borders is also accelerating Bull Moose’s plans to let customers search for books at in-store computer kiosks, like what was available at Borders.

Wickard says he is also encouraging Borders employees to apply for a handful of current job openings at Bull Moose, and he’s asking Borders customers to offer suggestions on the Bull Moose web site on how his company can adopt some of Borders best practices: like the ability to create ambience and offer a wide selection of inventory.

“Our job is to make sure that what was great about Borders isn’t wasted,” Wickard says. “And so if we can learn from that and embody some of that, we make sure it goes on, because they did some things right–they did a lot of things right.”

Meanwhile, the Bangor-based Mr. Paperback chain of bookshops hopes to recover some of the business it lost when Borders moved into the state.

“Belfast doesn’t have a Borders, Ellsworth doesn’t–where there are no Borders right now, we do quite well; where there are Borders, it’s hard to compete, so hopefully we’ll pick up some of that slack,” says Penny Robichaud, vice president of the family business, which has 10 locations, including Bangor, where it was in direct competition with Borders.

The family hopes now that Borders stores are closing, customers will come through their doors and rediscover the personal touch that independent bookstores such as Mr. Paperback offers at each location. “Dover-Foxcroft might be really big into mysteries and poetry, where another store, the clientele might be bigger into science fiction and literature, so we do tend to customize like that,” Robicaud says.

But for some customers, independent bookstores aren’t a practical option–because there are none around. With the closure of Waldenbooks in the Auburn Mall, David McCusker of Lisbon says the closest full-service bookstore is nearly an hour away–the Barnes and Noble’s store in Augusta.

“I think it’s a big loss,” McCusker says. “I always had a great time going to the bookstore and brought my kids to the bookstore, and they see all the books up there on the shelves with all the colors and everything, especially for young kids, and they can explore them. How are they going to do that with e-books?”

But an e-book is exactly what McCusker, who’s retired from the Navy, bought last year after he kept reading about Borders’ financial troubles and anticipated its closure. “I really like the convenience of the e-books, and then it’s just like, well, the convenience is there, so I probably contributed to the closure of Waldenbooks and Borders, now.”

Stuart Gersen says that it’s likely that the closure of Borders may push more convenience-craving customers to e-books, or to buying books online through vendors such as Amazon. But Gersen, who co-owns Longfellow Books in downtown Portland, expects to get some new customers through the door after the liquidation sales at Borders are over.

“There’s still a lot of opportunity to sell books because there’s still a lot of people who want to read real books and touch real books,” Gersen says. “And so as long as that’s true, you know if the numbers will work, we’ll all morph and change–I mean, we’ve all changed over the years–and that will continue to happen.”

As an example, Longfellow sells e-books through its online store, and will special order print books for customers.

Borders expects the liquidation sales to be over in six to eight weeks, and all of its stores to be shuttered by September. But that doesn’t mean the end of book sales at some of those spots. It’s well-known that the Borders in South Portland was one of the company’s most successful, and Maine booksellers say they won’t be surprised if another chain, such as Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, moves in.

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