Book lovers in the Brainerd area are likely to shed a tear at Tuesday's announcement by Book World Inc.-it is closing all its stores because of poor sales and online competition.
The Appleton, Wis.-based company will liquidate all its inventory starting Thursday in an "everything-must-go" sale at all of its 45 locations across seven states, including the one in Baxter.
"We anticipate that running at least through the end of the year ... into January, but that's really contingent on inventory-and certainly staffing plays a part in that, too-but primarily inventory," said Book World Senior Vice President Mark Dupont.
The family-owned independent chain of bookstores located throughout Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and Missouri offers a huge selection of books for all ages. The Baxter store is located at 15528 Edgewood Drive and employs nine workers.
"If inventory is still available, we will continue to sell it. After January-let's say mid-January or, again, whenever the sale ends-we are closing all the stores," Dupont said.
"Everything in our stores, we're trying to sell-all inventory, fixtures, anything essentially, obviously-and then we're going to wind down operations at our corporate office and that will be the end ... after 40 years."
The liquidation sale will offer customers "deep discounts" on books, toys, games, puzzles, magazines, calendars, trading cards, gifts and other merchandise. Customers are encouraged to shop immediately to take advantage of the sale while inventory is still available.
"The bulk of the change has been in 2017. Sales are down at an extraordinary high rate compared to the past. We're seeing other retailers fall. We hear stories in the national news all the time," Dupont said.
"It seems like brick-and-mortar stores-and hopefully I'm wrong-to some degree they are becoming an antiquated way to sell goods. And again you know no one wants to hear that if you work in retail, but we're seeing that."
The national shift in the retail marketplace towards e-commerce "has triggered the loss of vital mall anchor stores and a downward spiral in customer counts at Book World stores," reducing sales to a level that will no longer sustain business operations, according to Dupont.
"A lot of our stores are in shopping malls, but certainly not all of them. The majority of them actually aren't, but at all our stores the traffic count is down, especially at our stores in malls," he said. The Baxter store is a stand-alone location, although it was once located in the Westgate Mall until it moved in 2007.
Book World opened its first store in 1976 in Rhinelander, Wis., and is the fourth largest bookstore chain in the United States "with a strong emphasis on children's, regional and nature titles," according to the company's website.
"We're large enough to meet your needs while still being small enough to be able to provide you with top-notch personalized customer service," reads the welcoming webpage for Book World.
"We still have plenty of profitable stores ... but Book World as a whole can no longer sustain the business," Dupont said. "Baxter is one of our best locations, it is a profitable store, so I'd anticipate we probably would get some calls not to buy the business but hopefully at least the property."
In Minnesota, the company also has stores in Alexandria, Bemidji, Park Rapids and Willmar besides in Baxter. The state with the most Book World locations is Wisconsin.
"People are less willing to go out of their homes and travel to any kind of store nowadays when they can jump on a computer and buy it from any online retailer-not necessarily blaming Amazon, but obviously they are the No. 1 player in that," Dupont said.
Book World hired Yellen Partners to assist with the liquidation process. Yellen Partners is a family-run liquidation company that specializes in assisting in business closing and liquidation.
"We've seen just about in every location downward sales trends ... and we don't see any light at the end of the tunnel, so we made the decision to pull the plug after 40 years," Dupont said.
"We're still in a situation where we don't have any problems paying our employees for their work and try to go out while we can in the proper way."