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Borders liquidation draws crowds

The bookstore chain's nearly 400 shops start clearing shelves. They still honor gift cards.

July 23, 2011|Andrew Khouri

Book lovers across Southern California lined up for bargains at Borders bookstores as the nation's second-largest bookseller began a massive going-out-of-business sale.

When workers opened the doors in El Segundo and rolled out shelves stocked with colorful, discounted books, a waiting crowd Friday made its way into the sprawling superstore, hungry for bargains.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, July 26, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
Borders: An article in the July 23 Business section about liquidation sales at Borders bookstores included a comment from a customer at the El Segundo store who said she and her son, Alex Reyes, had gone to the store together at least once a week for 10 years. In fact, they began shopping at the El Segundo store after it opened in 2006.

What they found as they worked their way through the 22,000-square-foot store were signs proclaiming, "Nothing held back!" "Everything on sale!" and "Everything up to 40% off." The markdowns pleased some but disappointed others.

"The discounts aren't as much as I thought they were going to be," said Chris Terins, 37, of El Segundo as his 6-month-old son looked up at him. "It's not like the biggest sale ever."

Alex Reyes, 10, was more sentimental. "I basically grew up with Borders," he said, choking up as he expressed surprise at the store's closing. "I thought at first this had to be a joke -- it just has to be a joke."

After a bankruptcy judge gave the go-ahead Thursday, Borders Group Inc. kicked off its first day of liquidation sales Friday at nearly 400 stores nationwide, including 18 in Southern California. More than $700 million worth of books, DVDs, furniture and shelves were for sale.

In its 40th and last year, Borders said it would shut the doors of its stores by the end of September, though its website may remain longer. Gift cards are still being honored.

Several stores had lines out the door Friday, including ones in Mission Viejo, San Diego and San Francisco, said Craig Venezia, a spokesman with Gordon Bros. Group, one of the liquidators handling the sale. "It has kicked off with a bang," he said.

During liquidation sales, prices typically drop over time as liquidators try to empty the stores. But by then, said Terins, the El Segundo shopper, "all the good stuff is gone."

Ariza Feingold drove from Westwood to the El Segundo store after receiving an email from Borders announcing the markdowns. She showed up Friday morning, she said, before "the whole place is just erased out."

"I'm just getting warmed up," said Feingold, 44, holding nine children's books for her 10-month-old girl.

When Borders shuts its stores, most of the chain's 10,700 employees, including 524 in Southern California, will lose their jobs.

But a last-minute deal could save an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 jobs. Alabama-based Books-a-Million has put forth a bid to buy 30 stores, and reports say that number could jump to 35. Two California stores -- one in San Diego and one near Monterey -- may be included in the deal. Those jobs would be filled by current Borders employees, according to Borders attorney Andrew Glenn.

After filing for bankruptcy in February, the company inked its final chapter Thursday, defeated by what experts said were poor management decisions, massive debt and a changing industry.

Beginning as a used-book store in 1971 in Ann Arbor -- home to the University of Michigan -- Borders helped pioneer the book superstore and thrived in the 1980s and '90s with greater selections, cheaper prices and more leisure space than smaller, independent book shops.

Its hallmark superstores were once prized for their couches, coffee and free Internet access that turned the locations into a communal affair. But analysts said the company fumbled through the digital age, missing important shifts in the industry as consumers migrated online and toward digital books.

Although other booksellers, including Barnes & Noble Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and independent book shops, stand to gain customers from Borders' demise, they may have a difficult few months as Borders cuts prices to the floor, said Al Greco, a book publishing expert and professor of marketing at Fordham University's Graduate School of Business. For now, he said, "What Borders will do is suck out all the business from everybody else."

Back in El Segundo, Alex Reyes' mother, Tracy, recalled fond moments at the Borders store -- where she said she had come with her son Alex at least once a week for 10 years.

The two walked away with a bundle of books. But before leaving, they paused as Tracy snapped a photo of her son in front of the giant superstore -- a memento of what they said had become a second home.

Then they were off -- to a Borders superstore in Torrance, to hunt for more discounts.

andrew.khouri@ latimes.com

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