What are effects of Cleaer Lake-area Borders closing?
The closing of Borders bookstore in Webster could mean extra customers for area booksellers, but also serves notice that they need to find creative ways to keep customers coming back in the age of electronic books.
The Michigan-based Borders Group announced July 18 that its location at 19419 Gulf Freeway at the Baybrook Passage shopping center would be closing along with the rest of the group's 398 bookstores nationwide through a recently court-approved liquidation process. A phased rollout of the liquidation program is expected to conclude by the end of September, according to a press statement issued by the Borders Group.
Borders Group President Mike Edwards in a press release attributed the shuttering of the company's stores to "the rapidly changing book industry, (e-book) revolution, and turbulent economy."
News of the closing brought a somber reaction from James Forsberg, store manager for Half Price Books' location at 961-B E. NASA Parkway.
"We regret any sort of chain or independent store going out of business, because we feel like the more books that are out there, the better for everybody," Forsberg said.
Dallas-based Half Price Books is the nation's largest family owned retail chain seller of mostly used books, with 113 locations in 16 states.
"We are about literacy, of course, but the more books larger chains sell, the more that might trickle into our store and continue to make readers for our future growth," Forsberg said. "We are not jumping up and down about it at all. We feel we are not direct competitors, and that in fact the more new bookstores that are around, generally, is good for us."
Webster Economic Development Corp. Director Betsy Giusto does not believe Borders' closing heralds additional closures by other "brick-and-mortar" bookstores.
"Books are here to stay," said the self-confessed booklover who holds a doctorate in English and whose mother was a librarian. "Books are not going to be completely replaced by e-readers such as the Nook or the Kindle and all those others. Yes, those electronic devices are nice, but the retail book-selling business is simply evolving."
Giusto thinks that Borders was in the process of evolving to meet the changing industry, but was unable to catch up with other large chain booksellers such as New York-based Barnes & Noble, which is in the nearby Baybrook Gateway shopping center.
"The Webster Barnes & Noble is one of the very best Barnes & Nobles in the Greater Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area," she said. "It is one of the top performing Barnes & Noble stores in the Houston (statistical area). It is up to these booksellers to continually reinvent themselves to keep pace with technology and consumer needs and desires."
Giusto said Webster is the retail, dining and entertainment center of the Bay Area, making it a prime area for another retailer to take over Borders' spot in the Baybrook Passage center.
"We are over 80 percent commercial, because we have Interstate 45, Bay Area Boulevard, NASA Parkway, those corridors," she said. "Our position is midway between downtown Houston and Galveston. We think retailers have a good shot at being very successful in our city."
Baybrook Passage is owned by Coventry Development Corp, which also owns the land around Baybrook Mall. Coventry Development's vice president, Robert Taylor, said although he is sad to see the bookstore go, he is looking at the situation as "the glass is half full," instead of being half empty.
"There is someone out there who like to bin in our shopping center," he said. Wulfe & Co., a Houston-based retail-leasing agent, is working to find a replacement tenant, Taylor said.
Ellise Weatherall, a principal agent with Wulfe & Co., said she has been in several discussions with retailers looking to locate in the Borders space. She described the single-story site as "arguably one of the most visible buildings in the area."
"We are considering tenants that will take the entire building, or smaller tenants in the event we choose to divide the building," Weatherall said. "There is no specific time frame, but the space is available immediately."
Giusto said Half Price Books is an example of a smaller bookstore chain that has been able to find a niche in the changing industry.
"Their operation is very different," she said. "It is very cut-price. I would say they are very, very successful."
Forsberg does not know if his store will see more customers due to Borders' closing, but he said the two stores did share a lot of the same customers.
"Book people are book people," he said.
Forsberg said a saying has been around for years that "people don't read anymore."
"That may or may not be the case, but new technology, such as e-book readers, is causing everyone to try and keep up with it," he said.
Electronic books allow users to download the latest books for less than hardback prices. The devices, such as Barnes & Noble's Nook, also allow users to access digital magazine and newspaper subscriptions as well as surf Internet blog sites.
"We feel our niche at Half Price Books now is completely different," Forsberg said. "We have things that are out-of-print, things that are unusual and of course our prices are so much lower."
Over the past year, the local Half Price Books store has averaged nearly 12,000 transactions a month, said Emily Bruce, corporate public relations manager for the company. Overall, the chain has averaged 1.1 million transactions a month nationwide.
"Our profits do not rise and fall," said Forsberg, "based on what new book is going to come out. The big booksellers are worried about what is going to be the next 'Harry Potter.' We don't think that way. It is a little bit less of a scary precipice than a Barnes & Noble or Borders face."
Caption for photo
Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle
The planned closing of Borders in Webster has led to inquiries from prospective tenants about the bookstore's stand-alone building, which is in a busy retail area near Interstate 45 and Bay Area Boulevard.
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