Borders bookstore to close

Landlord envisions future use for the space, including glass atrium over courtyard

Palo Alto's Borders bookstore will close by the end of September as part of the liquidation of the national chain, a spokeswoman said Monday.

The Ann Arbor, Mich., company said it will close its remaining 399 stores.

The staff was told of the liquidation plans Monday afternoon.

Spokeswoman Mary Davis said she had no specific closure date for the Palo Alto venue, located at 456 University Ave. in downtown Palo Alto, but that it will be by the end of September.

Borders' Palo Alto landlord, Chop Keenan, said he's considering various options for the space, including a glass atrium over the open courtyard.

"We'll see what the market tells us to do," Keenan said.

Keenan ran through several options, including a front-to-back tenant for the portion of the property facing University Avenue (including the courtyard and store space that connects to the rear parking lot) and a separate tenant for the interior former theater space, with an entrance facing the rear parking lot.

"If I can find a two-story retail user for 23,000 square feet, that's a good thing," Keenan said.

"But retail is a tough business these days. Palo Alto is uniquely robust, but everywhere else I've got retail -- and I have a lot of it -- it's tough."

Another option would be to put retail on the ground floor and office space above, he said.

"I think what we don't want to happen is for the thing to sit there empty."

Keenan said he recalled being "a bit of a cause celebre" when he conceived of the idea, nearly 20 years ago, to convert the old Varsity Theatre into a bookstore.

"I hate to lose the book category, but time marches on," he said.

Borders Group President Mike Edwards, unable to find a suitable buyer for the company, which was in bankruptcy, said Monday he was saddened by the liquidation.

"We were all working hard toward a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, eReader revolution, and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now," Edwards said in a statement.

Shoppers browsed books and magazines and tried on reading glasses at the University Avenue store Monday afternoon, with little hint of the news from corporate.

Buyers stood in line as three cashiers rang up sales. Several customers said they'll miss having a local Borders. Philip Dah, who walked out of the store with a children's book, said he particularly appreciates the store's selection of bargain books. He said he frequents the Palo Alto store to pick up gifts for his nephews and nieces.

"The store closing will be a blow," Dah said.

Buck Staber, who was sitting in the Border's cafe, said he comes to the University Avenue store about twice a week to work on his laptop.

"It'll definitely make things inconvenient," Staber said, referring to the store's closure. "I don't just come here for the Internet. I also come here to buy books, records and CD's."

Stores will begin liquidation sales Friday, Davis said.

Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce President Paula Sandas said the store will be missed.

"Borders has been a great retail attraction for our downtown and will be sorely missed by those who love browsing and buying books," Sandas said.

"The ultimate liquidation of this retail giant marks the passage of the demand for hard copy books. First Internet technology and now electronic reading devices have changed the way people buy and read books."

— Chris Kenrick and Gennady Sheyner

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Like this comment
Posted by Nostalgic
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 20, 2011 at 10:38 am

anyone else miss the New Varsity (not to mention the Festival)?

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