First chain bookstores ate independent bookstores. Now bigger fish — Amazon.com and e-books being the biggest — are chomping on the Borders chain.
Borders Group said Wednesday that it would close four of five of its book superstores in the Tampa Bay area, including all three in Hillsborough County.
The stores are expected to close within a few weeks and are among 200 of the chain's 624 Borders and Waldenbooks stores nationwide shutting down as part of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings filed Wednesday by the chain, based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
At Borders Clearwater, one of the stores on the closing list, Joe Kassay, 35, was perusing books on Wednesday for an upcoming vacation in Colorado. "If it is closing, it looks like I'll have to start purchasing more books online, but I prefer bookstores," the Clearwater resident said. "It's like, you begin a love affair with the book when you first hold it in your hands."
Borders began as an independent bookstore, founded in 1971 in Ann Arbor by brothers Tom and Louis Borders. It soon boomed into a chain that, along with other chains such as Barnes & Noble, came to dominate the retail book market for several decades.
Borders stores won customers with inventories keyed to local tastes and many of the other features that draw readers to independent stores: cafes, comfy chairs, fun children's sections. Book clubs and writers groups met there, kids jammed Harry Potter release parties, and the stores were frequent stops for authors on book tours.
But in the last decade, the company made several major missteps: outsourcing its online book sales to Amazon.com about a decade ago before taking that business back (well behind the curve) in 2008; expanding into sales of music CDs and movies on DVD not long before those forms of entertainment moved decisively to digital distribution; expanding overseas rapidly and unsustainably; and lagging behind Amazon and other retailers in the e-book wave. (Wednesday, in the same issue in which it posted the list of Borders stores that will close, Publishers Weekly, the industry journal, reported that e-book sales rose 164 percent in 2010 — practically the only growth segment in the book industry.)
Add all that to a stagnant economy, and Borders' problems aren't really surprising. Its bankruptcy has been predicted for months; it owes publishers such as Random House and Simon & Schuster more than $145 million.
Local Borders survivors include the St. Petersburg superstore in Tyrone Square Mall plus Waldenbooks stores in Westfield Citrus Park and Gulfview Square in Port Richey. The Waldenbooks in International Plaza, which is having a store closing clearance sale, was already in the process of closing by Feb. 22.
On the list to close are superstores at 2020 Brandon Town Center Blvd., 2683 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. in Clearwater, and 909 N Dale Mabry and 12500 N Dale Mabry in Tampa.
Borders said its rewards program would remain in effect, and it would continue to honor gift cards and coupons.
At the Clearwater store, St. Petersburg College student Glenn Cunningham sat on the patio, drinking coffee while studying math. "My mother is a librarian, so I have always read books," said Cunningham, 24. "The news that Borders is closing is a disappointment. People are now growing up clicking the mouse, and this place just represents something more."
At a Borders in Tampa, Robert Broderick, 60, said, "I'll miss its presence. It's been a real comfort to me since I lost my job. Sometimes I feel bad that I don't buy things all the time, but they're very gracious. It has that old-town vibe that you just don't get around here."
Broderick said he is considering an e-book reader but doesn't like the shift to the Internet because he likes the feel of a book in his hands. "It's just a sign of the times changing," he said. "It's hard to fight the future."
Times staff writers Mark Albright and Piper Castillo and Times correspondent Emmy Boyd contributed to this report, which includes information from Times wires.