CHICAGO (CBS) — Not too many years ago, gleaming new Borders bookstores were heralded as the savior of long-struggling Uptown, the catalyst for a hoped-for renaissance along 95th Street in Beverly, and a highlight in the revival of State Street downtown.
But Borders will soon be on a list of defunct retail chains alongside Wieboldt’s, Tower Records, and onetime Chicago bookstore giant Kroch’s and Brentano’s, as it seeks to liquidate its remaining stores across the nation.
The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based chain, which helped pioneer the big-box bookseller concept, is seeking court approval to liquidate 400 surviving outlets after it failed to receive any bids that would keep it in business.
On Thursday, Borders is expected to ask the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York at a scheduled hearing to allow it to be sold to liquidators led by Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers Group. If the judge approves the move, liquidation sales could start as soon as Friday; the company could go out of business by the end of September.
Borders’ attempt to stay in business unraveled quickly last week, after a $215 million “white knight” bid by private-equity firm Najafi Cos. dissolved under objections from creditors and lenders. They argued the chain would be worth more if it liquidated immediately.
“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, e-reader revolution, and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now,” said Borders Group President Mike Edwards in a statement.
Borders already closed 228 of its stores this past spring as it reorganized in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Among the locations to close were all of those within the Chicago city limits except the flagship store at 150 N. State St., as well as several suburban locations.
The three-story State Street location, which remains open for now, dates back to October 2000. The store was considered an anchor for a retail revival on the street, as part of a larger development that also included the Art Institute student dormitory, the Chicago Tribune reported.
At the time the store opened, it was the largest of many new retail leases on State Street downtown, which all together had reduced the vacancy rate on the street to 1.5 percent, compared with 20 percent about a decade earlier, the Tribune reported.
The Magnificent Mile Borders store at 830 N. Michigan Ave. was the first to open within the city limits, predated in the area only by suburban stores in Deerfield and Oak Brook. The store opened in 1994 in the former I. Magnin location at 830 N. Michigan Ave., and over the years hosted readings by authors from Garrison Keillor to Tucker Max.
The Mag Mile store was also the first to close, back in January. While most of the old Borders locations remain vacant, a Topshop women’s clothing store is set to move into the old Mag Mile space.
The Hyde Park location at 1539 E. 53rd St. closed in March, before several of the other stores. The store dated back to July 2003, and originally drew concerns from fans of established neighborhood bookstores such as Powell’s, the Seminary Co-Op, 57th Street Books and O’Gara and Wilson antiquarian books – all of which now survive.
Soon after it opened, crowds came to the Hyde Park Borders not just for books, but also for jazz performances by local legends, the Tribune recalled.
Borders’ Uptown location at 4718 N. Broadway opened with much fanfare in the spring of 2004, in an old Goldblatt’s store that had been shuttered since the mid-1990s. A December 2003 story pointed out that $7 million of tax increment financing money were used to renovate the historic building before Borders moved in.
“Wasn’t that store supposed to be the savior of the Uptown neighborhood?” WBEZ-Chicago Public Radio’s Justin Kaufmann blogged in February. “When Borders moved into the renovated (and long vacant) Goldblatt’s space, it was taken as both a watershed moment for the neighborhood and a high watermark for the economic boom.”
The East Lakeview location at 2817 N. Clark St. was anchor of the three-way intersection of Diversey Parkway, Clark Street and Broadway for more than 15 years, after taking over a space previously occupied by a Great Ace Hardware store in 1995 in what for many years been a seedy part of the neighborhood then called New Town. Months before it closed, the bookstore was still drawing huge crowds for readings and book signings by authors such as David Sedaris.
Bookstores in that densely-populated section of the East Lakeview neighborhood were plentiful not too many years ago, with a Barnes & Noble store just to the south at 659 W. Diversey Pkwy., and a Barbara’s Bookstore just to the north at 3130 N. Broadway. The Barbara’s Bookstore closed in 1996, and the space is now occupied by Wilde Bar and Restaurant, while the Barnes & Noble closed at the end of 2008 and will soon be taken over by the new State Farm “Next Door” community space.
A Super Crown bookstore also operated at the corner of Diversey Parkway and Halsted Street for several years in the 1990s; it is now a Dunkin’ Donuts.
A handful of used bookstores, and the Unabridged Bookstore farther north on Broadway, now remain.
The Near North Side location at 755 W. North Ave. also opened in the spring of 2004, in the then-booming Clybourn Corridor. A decade earlier, the principal destinations in the area had been an old John M. Smyth’s Homemakers furniture store and the New City YMCA, which was opened to serve Cabrini-Green residents.
The area had already grown affluent when the Borders store opened, and its cache has grown since. Nearby, an old BP gas station at Clybourn Avenue and Halsted Street has been supplanted by an Apple Store, and just to the southwest, Whole Foods has expanded its presence.
The Beverly location at 2210 W. 95th St. opened in 1998, also to much fanfare and high hopes. A Chicago Tribune article on May 5, 1998 was headlined, “Beverly pins hopes for 95th renaissance on bookstore.”
The 95th Street store was the first national retailer to open on that stretch of the street, known as “the Quality Mile.” But, as a 2003 Tribune article pointed out, the Borders store never sparked the hoped-for rush of development along 95th Street.
Still, neighbors were shocked and saddened upon hearing the announcement that the store was closing.
“I look at that as a family outing. As a dad it’s important for me to bring my children here. I taught my son, seven years old, how to read, right here in Borders,” customer Rashi Spillers told CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot in February.
The Borders in at 6103 N. Lincoln Ave. in the Lincoln Village shopping center opened in 2003, as part of an extensive facelift of the retail center at Lincoln Avenue and McCormick Boulevard, which was considered the city’s first modern shopping center when it opened in the 1950s.
The Borders replaced the aging Lincoln Village 7-9 movie theater, which had grown run down and was demolished.
The redevelopment that included the addition of the Borders at Lincoln Village was part of a $25 million rehab project for the shopping center, which at the time included an Amazing Savings and an Office Depot, according to the Chicago Tribune.
At its peak, in 2003, Borders operated 1,249 Borders and Waldenbooks, but by the time it filed for bankruptcy protection in February that had fallen to 642 stores and 19,500 employees. Since then, Borders has shuttered more stores and laid off thousands.
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