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VOL. 132 | NO. 4 | Thursday, January 5, 2017

Booksellers at Laurelwood Set to Close

By Andy Meek

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The Booksellers at Laurelwood has faced imminent closure before, the lights-out moment once so near that the representative of a liquidation chain paid a visit to get a look at the store and take stock of its inventory.

The East Memphis bookstore The Booksellers at Laurelwood is closing its doors in the coming weeks after 32 years in business, its owner has announced.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

That was six years ago. And it’s now happening all over again.

The 32-year-old bookstore’s marketing manager earlier this week hit “send” on an email that contained something of a farewell from owner Neil Van Uum, who in it lamented everything from sales declines to rent costs in announcing “with much sadness” the store’s final days.

He told The Daily News the 25,000-square-foot store – which employs about 50 people – will likely stay open through the end of February. A liquidation sale with expected markdowns of between 20 percent and 50 percent, or more, is set to start on Jan. 6.

A Laurelwood Shopping Center representative told The Daily News that the center got word two weeks ago from the store’s lender about its financial difficulties. Van Uum told The Daily News “it was a mutual decision” between him and the lender to close the store, that “we weren’t in a position where I could put a 2017 budget together that made sense.”

He looked at one point at “partitioning the store,” an idea that got scrapped for being too costly. The store also wasn’t able, Van Uum says, to negotiate any kind of “exit plan” or rent reduction.

“This store is iconic,” he said, not long after breaking the news to the store’s staff. “People grew up here.

“It’s brick-and-mortar retail. It’s tough, and you have to be somewhat nimble. It’s going to be a blow. It’s sad when communities lose institutions.”

Laurelwood marketing director Cory Prewitt declined to comment about whether the center would take any steps to help keep the store open.

The Laurelwood mainstay, formerly known as Davis-Kidd Booksellers, fell on hard times in late 2010 when Davis-Kidd’s parent company filed for bankruptcy. Some stores in the former chain were bought out, while others closed.

Van Uum, who had founded Davis-Kidd’s parent company, left it to run The Booksellers at Laurelwood directly. He oversaw a renovation of the store that included expanding the children’s section and updating the café menu, among other things.

By the end of the day Jan. 3, after word had passed quickly around the city about the closure, neither the store’s Facebook page nor website were carrying any mention of the news.

Employees and customers carried on in their interactions as normal. Noticeable gaps on some shelves could be seen. A makeshift sign announced that no newspapers had been delivered where stacks of The New York Times would otherwise have been found.

The store has been a stop on the book tour circuit for local authors over the years as well as for bigger names who’ve put pen to paper, like rocker Pat Benatar; former Vice President Al Gore; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; and others.

Van Uum focused on the store’s employees in the goodbye announcement he sent out earlier this week. Many of them have been with the store for decades.

His statement, in full, read:

“It is with much sadness that we announce we are closing The Booksellers at Laurelwood. When I stepped in 6 years ago to save this 32-year-old store, we had high hopes of getting things turned around and going forward. Unfortunately, the store size and rent are too much for us to handle combined with (a) slight decline in sales over the last few years. The numbers just don’t work.

My thoughts turn most to the tremendous staff of booksellers who have made this their life’s work. They loved their work and the wonderful customers they served over the many years.

I thank you all for your continued support.

We will commence the liquidation sale this Friday, January 6th. All merchandise will be marked down between 20 percent-50 percent and greater. The fixtures, furniture, and bistro equipment will also be for sale.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Thanks, Neil.”

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