Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Walmart, Jesus and Books Without Borders

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 11:19 AM

click to enlarge walmart.jpg

Over the weekend, the Times-Standard  broke the story that a new business is planning to move into the former Gottschalks location at the Bayshore Mall and that circumstantial evidence suggests it could be a Walmart, the big box mega-retailer that Eureka voters rejected a dozen years back.* Three days later, a South Carolina couple finds the image of Jesus Christ on a Walmart receipt. Coincidence? You decide:

In other mall news, mega-chain bookseller Border's yesterday announced that it is declaring bankruptcy and will liquidate its inventory and close entirely (h/t LoCO). What will this mean for local booksellers -- and the industry at large? That's difficult to predict, Northtown Books owner Dante DiGenova said in a phone interview. He was an employee of the Arcata store in 2003 when Borders moved into the mall.

"I saw a definite change," he said. "The previous owners said [the store] took a big hit and never really bounced back." He said the bookselling industry has changed so much since then -- with the advent of e-readers being the most obvious example -- that it's hard to tell what effect Borders' closing will have on his store.

"It could make a difference," he said. "I don't necessarily think it's a good thing for the publishing industry, but I think it could give the publishing industry a wake-up call in terms of realistic print runs." Borders, he explained, would often skew print run numbers by ordering far more books that it ultimately sold, then returning unsold copies to the publishers.

While Borders fades into the past, Northtown has stepped warily into the future. Last week the bookstore launched a new website that allows readers to peruse new releases and staff picks, order books online and even -- gasp! -- "purchase" eBooks. DiGenova said the store's profit margin on digital books is minuscule, and he, for one, doesn't care for the technology. He's hoping most of his customers don't either.

"I don't want to be an online retailer," he said. "That is not the reason why I bought the store and worked in bookstores all these years."

As for Borders, DiGenova said he's been hearing for years that the company had a poor business model -- expanding too aggressively, choosing locations with premium real estate values and failing to adapt to changes in the industry.

"I've talked to sales reps who said they'd seen this coming for years," he said. 

*Footnote: That linked Walmart story from 1999 is worth a read if you want to refresh your memory on the issues at play -- both then and now. It notes the abundance of retail store vacancies in Eureka, including two dozen or so at the Bayshore Mall. It also cites a report from "The Humboldt County Ad Hoc Committee on Big Box Development," a group appointed by the Board of Supervisors:

"A new big box retail store would have negative fiscal impacts on surrounding municipal entities, not increase jobs or the quality of jobs, significantly harm and potentially bankrupt existing businesses and reduce the overall quality of life throughout the county," the report stated.

Is that true, some 12 years later? Click here to take a survey.

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About The Author

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns worked for the Journal from 2008 to 2013, covering a diverse mix of North Coast subjects, from education, politics and marijuana to human suspension, sex parties and amateur fight contests. He won awards for investigative reporting, feature stories and news coverage.

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