They may be writing the final chapter on the Savile Book Shop this weekend. The 32-year-old Georgetown institution, which has been in poor financial health in recent years, is set to close its doors.
On Monday, the approximately 50,000 volumes that fill 17 separate rooms at the P street store, will be removed and the Savile will be closed. But the closing may be temporary if a new owner can be found.
According to the Savile's owner, Wallace Kuralt, about 10 groups, including two existing Washington book stores, have expressed some interest in buying the store. Kuralt's asking price is about $200,000, but he says it would take another $100,000 to build up the inventory of books.
Kurait has been running the Savile from his home in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he also owns a chain of five other bookstores.
He bought the Georgetown store in Nov. 1976 from Jorge Carnicero, chairman of the Dynalectron Corp., for under $100,000. What he didn't know, according to store officials, was that he also bought some hidden liabilities that later hurt business. "We probably should have passed it in the first place," Kuralt said in a telephone interview, "But something in us couldn't let us do that, and it cost us plenty."
One of the major problems was a dwindling inventory of books. Even though Kuralt had installed a sophisticated computer system, it sometimes took 10 days or more to get a particular book. There was also a serious cash flow problem, according to Kuralt. "We knew what to buy," he said "But we had no money to do it with."
To the dismay of some of Savile's long-time patrons, the store gradually began to sell more and more mass market books and best sellers at the expense of some of the more electic material. "We had to go with the faster moving things," Kuralt explained, "but I don't think we prostituted ourselves. We dropped out the heavier philosophy and history, and it was painful to do so."
Richard Howorth, Savile manager, also cited the fierce competition from growing discount book stores in Washington, such as Crown Books and Kramer Books, as well as having an owner who lived out of town as reasons for the store's troubles.
Howorth thinks there is still a need for the kind of service. Savile has provided in the past, when it was one of the best-stocked book shops in the world.
"Of course selling it will be a tragedy because it still can be a great book store," he said. "And it won't take much to make it a great book store again. Anyone who would like to get into the book business should realize that it's not all chit-chat about great literature and reading books-its a tough retail business."
"Ten years ago, people would have called on us first because we would have had something first," Howorth said. "Now we're the last."
Jim Tenney, buyer and manager of another Georgetown book mart, The Book annex, owned the Savile for several years in the mid-'60s. He said the biggest problem is "a case of absentee ownership" and the fact the Kuralt failed to keep on top of his inventory.
Tenney also faults Carnicero, who he says bought the store for tax reasons. "I think someone who did have a love of books could certainly make a go of it," Tenney said.
Another big problem plaguing the Savile has been shoplifting, according to Tenney. "Physically, it's a difficult store to work," he said.
One of the potential buyers for the Savile is Second Story Books of Washington, which sells a combination of new, used and rare books. "We would turn it into a scholarly, antiquarian bookstore instead of a mass market bookstore." said Second Story's Alan Stypeck.
Ideally, Stypeck would like to restore the Savile to its former glory as a place where the Washington bibliophile can find all manner of in-and-out-of-print literature. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, no caption, Photos by Frank Johnston-The Washington Post