After announcing it was liquidating its inventory and closing all of its stores, Midwest chain Book World has been fielding interest in some of its locations from independent booksellers.
Book World, founded in Wisconsin in 1976 by current owner William Streur, has 45 outlets in the U.S. While the chain is centered in Wisconsin, it also has stores in Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, North Dakota, and Missouri. To date, 17 of the chain’s locations have closed, with the rest scheduled to shut by January 31.
Book World senior v-p Mark Dupont confirmed that purchase requests about the stores have been coming in. “It’s not overwhelming,” he said, but prospective buyers have been contacting the company “here and there.”
One current Book World employee has bought the inventory and fixtures of several stores, but is still in the process of obtaining bank financing to complete the transition. The Book World outlet in downtown Minocqua, Wisc., has been purchased by Michael Bauer, who already owns a gift shop across the street. He plans to open his new bookstore by March.
Book World’s demise is indicative of the struggles facing bricks-and-mortar booksellers today. As the New York Times recently reported, the fate of Book World speaks to the bleak reality for bricks-and-mortar booksellers in a market dominated by one player: Amazon. Ironically, with Book World out of the picture, Amazon will become the country’s fourth largest chain bookseller (thanks to the company’s expansion into physical bookselling with its string of Amazon Books locations).
In contrast to the New York Times’ report, which declared that chain bookstores are on the verge of extinction thanks to the pervasiveness of e-commerce, Dupont insisted that Book World was not killed by competition from Amazon alone. He also said that the future viability of what are now Book World outlets depends on several factors, including the local economy. While some Book World outlets are in rural areas or shopping malls, a number are on the main streets of thriving towns. Several locations, Dupont added, are in popular tourist destinations that attract affluent visitors.
Dupont believes the Book World stores represent an “opportunity” for someone who wants to get into independent bookselling. He estimated that approximately 50% of Book World’s locations serve as the sole bricks-and-mortar bookstore in their area and are, therefore, viable for someone who is looking to come in and run the business as an indie bookseller.
While Book World may be hopeful that some of its outlets will live on under the new ownership of passionate indie booksellers, the chain’s closure will still be felt throughout the bookselling community. More than 300 Book World employees are set to lose their jobs as a result of the company’s demise.