Hunter's Books is closing three unprofitable stores on Christmas Day, including its flagship store in Beverly Hills, the chain's owner said Sunday.
Hunter's Books owner Louis Lengfeld said in a telephone interview that the stores in Beverly Hills, Westwood and Phoenix are being closed because rents are too high. He said he decided to close the stores rather than reduce the level of customer service that has become Hunter's trademark.
"We gave it a good try," said Lengfeld. "In the world of service, its hard to keep up."
Hunter's opened its first store in Beverly Hills 64 years ago, where it offered special services to Hollywood celebrities from "Walt Disney on down," said Lengfeld. Hunter's clerks learned the tastes of their famous clients, and selected books for them.
Three years ago, a 30% hike in rents forced the Beverly Hills store to move to its current address on Beverly Boulevard from its longtime location on prestigious Rodeo Drive, said Lengfeld.
Over the last few years, Hunter's has closed stores in Dallas and Seattle due to high rents and sluggish sales. The chain, based in Brisbane, in Northern California, has been shrinking at a time when the industry is becoming increasingly dominated by large discount book chains, such as Crown Books and Barnes & Noble.
Lengfeld said, however, that Hunter's was a victim of high real estate costs, not competition.
He said Hunter's had higher operating costs than the large book chains because its stores were more heavily staffed. He estimated that an individual Hunter's Book store employed up to three times the number of people employed by competing discount chains. Lengfeld said the Beverly Hills store employed 16 to 18 people.
Lengfeld declined to provide financial information on Hunter's Books, which is part of Lengfeld's firm, Books Inc. Lengfeld said that the eight Books Inc. stores in Northern California were doing well and had sales of $12 million.
Lengfeld said the Christmas closing date was related to the terms of the leases on the stores and that jobs would be found for some employees at other Hunter's stores. After the three locations are closed, Hunter's Books will have stores in Pasadena, La Jolla and in Scottsdale, Ariz.