June 20, 2018
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Borders faithful in Maine mourn pending closure

By Matt Wickenheiser and Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Across the state, bummed bibliophiles are lamenting the pending closure of Borders bookstores.

“My husband and I love books — we don’t know where we’re going to get them now,” Maureen Best of Portland said Tuesday after shopping at the South Portland Borders next to the Maine Mall.

“There’s such an experience about going into a place, picking out what you’re going to get — it’s a totally different experience online.”

Inside the store, Best said, employees were acknowledging that the business would be closing its doors — some saying as soon as Friday.

“It’s just sad,” she added.

The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Borders Group on Monday afternoon agreed to submit a previously announced liquidation plan to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan on Thursday. The company operates 399 stores and employs approximately 10,700 workers.

Borders’ attempt to stay alive unraveled last week after a $215 million bid by a private-equity firm dissolved under objections from creditors and lenders. They argued the chain would be worth more if it liquidated immediately.

Now the chain’s remaining stores could be shuttered by September.

Borders has three stores in Maine: in South Portland, in Bangor by the Bangor Mall and in Brunswick. It also operates a Waldenbooks at the Auburn Mall.

On Tuesday, Heather and Chris Dinwiddie of Hampden said Tuesday they visit the Bangor store at least once every week to pick through the large selection of magazines.

“This was our routine every week, and now it’s going to be empty,” said Heather Dinwiddie, who, with her husband, signed up for the Borders loyalty rewards program just a few months ago.

“Now it doesn’t look like we’ll get any use out of what we paid to join,” she said.

Sharon Thibault of Litchfield said she and her husband drop into Borders near the Maine Mall whenever they’re in the Portland area.

“I think it’s too bad, but it’s kind of inevitable,” Thibault said.

There has been a significant increase in the availability of books online, she said. People can buy paper books through a retailer such as Amazon or download an e-copy on any of the readers out there, among them Nooks and Kindles, she noted. Thibault said she does both often, and also shops at Borders or the Barnes & Noble in Augusta.

The online option is not only convenient, she said, but is also ideal for finding uncommon books, such as one she recently tracked down from her childhood, “The Digging-Est Dog” by Al Perkins.

The online option isn’t for everyone, though.

“It’s unfortunate that electronic media has really pushed print media to the side,” said Mark Rustin of Newburgh, who was one of several shoppers at the Bangor store Tuesday trying to use up old gift cards that might soon lose their worth. “It’s a sign of the times, and I don’t think it’s a good one.”

The Bangor and South Portland stores were consistently among the top-performing branches for Borders, according to Charlie Longo, a Bangor city councilor who worked at Borders for two years. He left last week to start a job at a new store in town.

He said the Bangor store, which has about 30 employees, received awards and was recognized by the company as one of the top-50 Borders stores in the nation.

“Hopefully this will be a blessing in disguise,” Longo said, explaining that he hopes another business will move into the Borders building after the bookstore closes. “I just wish everybody [his former co-workers] the best.”

Adam Fisher, spokesman for the Maine Department of Labor, said the agency will be working with Borders to schedule Rapid Response sessions for the affected workers. Given what a Borders spokesman said about the average number of employees at Borders and Waldenbooks stores, there would be a range of employees in Maine from about 72 to 137.

That number fluctuates, said Fisher.

“As with most large retailers, they have seasonal swings in their employment levels — most notably during the holiday shopping period of November and December,” he said.

The Rapid Response workshops will provide participants with information on CareerCenter services to help them find jobs or access training, unemployment benefits, health care resources, and other services for laid-off workers, Fisher said.

Maine felt the effect of another national chain closing when Circuit City shuttered in 2009. According to Fisher, the company had about 35 employees in the store near the Bangor Mall. Stores in South Portland and Augusta also closed. The Bangor store remains mostly vacant, although it is used off and on; the former South Portland store is now home to a massive Goodwill store.

“Like Circuit City, it may be a while before the Borders stores actually close. Employees may be kept on while the remaining stock is sold off by a liquidation firm,” said Fisher. “We will be paying close attention to the schedule as we work on a plan to serve those workers.”

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