Borders files bankruptcy and plans to close 30% of stores as book market changes

As Borders marks its 40th anniversary, its survival is threatened by more than $1 billion in debt.
As Borders marks its 40th anniversary, its survival is threatened by more than $1 billion in debt. (Jeff Kowalsky)

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Heavy debt and a plummeting market share pushed Borders to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2011

Borders Group, the bookstore chain whose rise helped crush scores of independent booksellers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization Wednesday, announcing the closing of 200 stores, including eight in the Washington area.

The company, founded in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1971 by brothers Tom and Louis Borders, is struggling under more than $1 billion in debt amid rapid changes in how Americans buy and read books. In: e-books, downloaded whenever, wherever. Out: People shopping at chain bookstores.

Although expected for weeks, the bankruptcy filing shook shoppers, publishing executives and even competitors.

"This is the biggest bankruptcy in the history of the book business," said Albert Greco, senior researcher at the Institute for Publishing Research in New York. "This is really a depressing day."

As part of its effort to erase debt and emerge from bankruptcy as a viable retailer, Borders said it would close about 30 percent of its 642 stores, including all of its stores in the District and Prince George's County. Thousands of employees will lose their jobs.

According to court filings, the stores expected to close soon include some of the chain's most popular outlets in the region: at White Flint Mall in Kensington, Wisconsin Avenue NW in Friendship Heights and 18th and L streets NW in downtown Washington. In addition, Virginia stores are closing at Tysons Corner, in Winchester and in Stafford County; Maryland stores will be shuttered in Bowie and Largo.

Borders President Mike Edwards said the company "does not have the capital resources it needs to be a viable competitor and which are essential for it to move forward with its business strategy to reposition itself successfully for the long term."

Borders said it received $505 million in financing from GE Capital to continue operations during its trip through bankruptcy court. Shares of Borders traded at 23 cents before the filing, and the New York Stock Exchange has started the delisting process.

Across the region Thursday, shoppers at Borders and owners of other stores expressed wonder at how far the chain had fallen.

"It's all just extraordinary. I feel sad for all the good independent bookstores that were put out of business in the process of their expansion and the way they slashed prices," said Barbara Meade, co-owner of Politics and Prose, an independent that has thrived despite being just eight blocks from a Borders in Upper Northwest Washington. "But I also feel bad for the people who are losing their jobs, too. That's very, very sad."

At the Borders at 18th and L, shopper Kevin Marrion said it never crossed his mind that such a prime location would close.

"I work in this building," he said. "I come here every day for coffee and to take a break. I walk around and buy books, magazines, random things to read. It's high-traffic. I've been coming here for so many years."


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