VOL. 132 | NO. 5 | Friday, January 6, 2017
Scenarios Emerge to Keep Booksellers at Laurelwood Going
By Andy Meek
For sale: One beloved, 32-year-old independent bookstore. Asking price? $800,000. That’s what Booksellers at Laurelwood owner Neil Van Uum says he’d accept to unload the store, days after announcing its impending closure and a liquidation sale that begins on Friday, Jan. 6.
He’s also talking with people about a variety of different scenarios, sparking some degree of hope that a closure might still be avoided. One such possibility – lining up an investor who would put up something in the range of $400,000 to carry the store forward in a smaller space, along the lines of 5,000 square feet, compared with the 25,000 square feet it occupies now.
“I’m selling the fact you can make a great business out of 5,000 square feet if you can get the right deal,” Van Uum said. “You just need the right deal on a piece of real estate, and it’d be a great investment. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the right person.”
That’s the scenario he wants to see materialize. And he’s hopeful. The store was “packed” with customers in the days after word spread of the closure, he noted. And he’s talking to people who’ve asked what they can do to help.
While he doesn’t rule out accepting an offer from someone who wants to buy the store as-is, Van Uum says the current economics are essentially untenable. That includes his assessment about the store being too big and paying too much in rent as a consequence.
“The book business is a metric-based business in the sense that we don’t set the prices on our books,” he said. “They all have a fixed margin. If I’m in a nicer shopping center, I’d take half my entire inventory and mark it up 3 to 8 points, and I’d have more margin and could pay more rent. That’s why bookstores need to stay in the 8 to 9 percent of sales range. We’re paying almost 12 percent of sales in rent, though, and I really had no negotiating position when I stepped in six years ago.”
The bookstore earlier this week announced its closure – which Van Uum estimated will happen by the end of February – with an email that talked about the financial constraints of rent obligations and declining sales.
It’s the second time for the store to be in such a position in recent years. The Laurelwood mainstay, formerly known as Davis-Kidd Booksellers, got caught up in the aftermath in late 2010 of Davis-Kidd’s parent company filing 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.
In a post to the bookstore’s Facebook page Wednesday, there were hints and hope that the story might not yet be over:
“Y’all, the entire store wants to thank all of you for the overwhelming show of support you’ve given us since hearing the news. We’re still hopeful that someone in Memphis can find a way to keep a vision of this store alive. The love we’re feeling from the community is too great for our story to be over.”
Van Uum said he’s talking to a group now that “maybe has got the wherewithal to make something happen,” and could buy the inventory and assets of the company. His dream, though, is for a slimmed-down Booksellers at Laurelwood to get the chance to press forward.
“That store would I believe be pretty viable,” he said.