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VOL. 126 | NO. 146 | Thursday, July 28, 2011


Demise of big-box bookstores leaves vacant real estate behind

By Sarah Baker

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As the market for brick-and-mortar bookstores lessens, the space that once housed big-box retailers could very well be snatched up faster than a paperback at a liquidation sale.

A liquidation sale is taking place at Borders Books at 6685 Poplar Ave. in the Carrefour at Kirby Woods shopping center. The store is one of a growing number of book retailers that are going out of business. 
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

It was 40 years ago that the first Borders opened its doors in Ann Arbor, Mich., as one of the originators of the big-box bookseller concept. But much to local bookworms’ dismay, Borders will now be known as yet another bookseller to be defeated by the ever-increasing eReader revolution.

Situated in the Carrefour at Kirby Woods shopping center at Poplar Avenue and Kirby Parkway, the 30,000-square-foot Borders is in a prime trade area with heavy traffic counts.

This makes the Class A space more than ideal for other retailers circling the local market, said Shawn Massey, partner with The Shopping Center Group LLC.

“Borders is a well-located box in the heart of the city that will provide a national retailer an opportunity to capitalize on the high incomes and density surrounding the store,” Massey said. “It should be very attractive to some type of home accessory or specialty stores that are expanding across the country. There are a lot of big-box concepts that are not in Memphis such as The Container Store, a new furniture store, etc. Locations such as Carrefour or Poplar Plaza may be the market these retailers are seeking.”

Another appealing yet vacant hotspot is the former Bookstar in Poplar Plaza shopping center at Poplar and Highland Street.

Already an adaptive reuse of a former theater, the once-thriving book retailer was a brand of Barnes & Noble, whose brick-and-mortar presence in Memphis has dwindled to just two stores, one at Wolfchase Galleria and one at Collierville’s The Avenue Carriage Crossing.

The end of January marked the end of Bookstar’s reign in the University of Memphis area, about a year after the nation’s largest book retailer announced the closure of the Barnes & Noble store at 6385 Winchester Road – a space that remains empty.

Bookstar would have already been snatched up, Massey said, if it weren’t for a pair of off-putting characteristics.

The former site of a Barnes & Noble bookstore at 6385 Winchester Road sits empty, part of a growing number of book retailers that are going out of business.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“There’s no parking in the front of it and the floors are at uneven elevations inside,” Massey said. “We looked at it with other clients and they just couldn’t get over how to deal with the floor change elevations because you get into a lot of handicap and code issues, so it’s just tough. It made for a funky, cool bookstore, but it doesn’t make for a national retailer to easily come in and put their prototypical store in there.”

The typical real estate of big-box booksellers average anywhere from 10,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet across the country, said Scott Barton, senior vice president of retail services at CB Richard Ellis Memphis. Players for many spaces of that size could include T.J.Maxx, Ross Dress for Less, Best Buy, hhgregg, Staples and even small grocery stores, health clubs and furniture stores.

“The bottom line is if the real estate is good, I think there will be plenty of demand,” Barton said. “Remember Circuit City went bankrupt and their good locations were re-leased. Weak locations still remain.”

Locality has been a saving grace for Burke’s Book Store, which moved to 936 S. Cooper St. from 1719 Poplar Ave. four years ago. While some may think Bookstar’s closing earlier this year would result in less sellbacks to the 136-year-old literary landmark, co-owner Cheryl Mesler said it’s the exact opposite.

“Since we moved over in this neighborhood four years ago, we get so much better used stuff and I can’t explain why,” Mesler said. “Honestly, in the past few months, we have almost had to turn people away we’ve had so many things coming in. Maybe we’re seeing an increase because of economics and people are getting rid of books more often, I don’t really know.”

That’s not the only uncertainty for Mesler, who bought the store in 2000 with her husband after working there for a decade before that. While she’s pleased that independent bookstores like Burke’s and the Booksellers at Laurelwood (formerly Davis-Kidd Booksellers) appear to be staging a comeback, she approaches that optimism with caution.

“When Bookstar came in in ’92, it was the first bite that Burke’s felt from a big store,” she said. “I remember there was a drop in sales and the woman that we were working for who owned Burke’s at the time saying, ‘OK, this is it.’ So, it’s been really interesting to watch it come full circle and realize that those big guys have sort of eaten each other and we may be getting back to the smaller bookstore.

“On the flip side, I worry that in the public’s eye, the disappearance of bookstores means the disappearance of books, and that I don’t like. It’s been a little frightening to watch.”

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