A Guide to Bargains at the Bankrupt Columbia Borders

The liquidation sale means big markdowns. Books-A-Million aims to buy the Columbia Borders store.

Here we go again—another big fire sale on books and other merchandise is under way at Borders, this time in Columbia, Timonium and Silver Spring.

Books-A-Million, now the second-largest book-selling chain in the country after Barnes & Noble, from bankrupt Borders, including three in Maryland—in Lutherville, Columbia and Waldorf.  

Federal Bankruptcy Court in New York City still must approve the sale. 

A committee of Borders unsecured creditors must first give its approval before going in front of Judge Martin Glenn at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. 

Judging from the way the Borders liquidation sale at Friendship Heights in Chevy Chase and in downtown Washington, D.C. unfolded, book buyers can look forward to even steeper discounts over the next 30 to 60 days at the Columbia store. 

I remember when the Borders’ popular store on Wisconsin Ave NW, frequented by Washington Post columnist George Will, the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman and other media celebs, closed down for good and sold all its books and merchandise. Some of the stuff was unloaded at nickels and dimes on the dollar.

So here’s the game plan of what to expect at the Columbia superstore over the next few weeks or so.

At the outset, discounts being offered will range from 20 to 40 percent, with popular items such as children’s books, cookbooks and the like marked down only 20 percent. Other slower-moving items—legal books or more academic-oriented material—will likely get the 40 percent discounts right out of the starting gate.

As the clock ticks down toward final shutdown of the store, probably in September, the discounts will get much steeper.

But here’s the catch: A lot of the best stuff will be gone.

When the Friendship Heights store was shuttered in April, I first scouted the place to see what they had, then returned two or three times in subsequent weeks and picked up a few books and other items as the discounts moved into the 70 to 80 percent off range.

One thing that sticks with me from that shutdown: Last December I  purchased two copies of The Last Boy, Jane Leavy’s fine book on the New York Yankees’ legendary Mickey Mantle, to send as Christmas presents, probably at $30 to $35 apiece.

During the liquidation sale only three months later, I noted Borders offered dozens of copies of the same book at $5 or less. I’m betting that in Columbia will have lots of copies of that book and many other top-notch, recently published books at bargain-basement prices in the weeks ahead.

Keep in mind that Borders offers many items other than books:  videos, games for kids, puzzles, maps and the like. It’s all good stuff too. 

At the end of the liquidation sale, they’ll be peddling it literally for pennies on the dollar.

Remember too: If you happen to have a Borders gift card, this will be your last chance to use it. Better hurry on this one—it’ll be good only until July 31.

Another point: At the end, everything in the store will go—bookshelves, chairs, tables, furnishings and so forth. There are opportunities there if you run a small business or need some of this stuff for your home.

This pattern has been well established by Borders with the Ann Arbor, MI-based firm already forced into closing hundreds of its remaining 642 stores nationwide earlier this year. Those stores, for the most part, were money losers due to either slow sales or, in many cases, rental agreements or leases that were too high.

The remaining 399, including Columbia, reportedly were profitable but Borders failed in last-minute attempts to sell them in a package deal.

In a nutshell, Borders, formerly the second-largest bookstore chain in the country after Barnes & Noble, was too slow off the mark in moving into digital books (e-readers and the like) in the face of stiff competition from Amazon.com and others.

In its heyday, stores nationally, including those formerly owned by Waldenbooks.  

Borders shuttered hundreds of unprofitable stores after the firm filed for protection under the bankruptcy provisions in mid-February this year.

The process itself is a fascinating one: the liquidators are playing a risky game to some extent. Through well-established formulas, they try to figure how much merchandise they can push out the door before resorting to the very steep discounting near the end of the sale.

The liquidation sale itself is being run by Gordon Brothers Retail Partners and Hilco Retail Resources.

- Marty Chase, who lives in Chevy Chase, has more than 40 years' experience covering bankruptcies and other business news at Kiplinger, Fairchild Publications, Charleston Gazette, Boston Globe and other papers.

Erik DeVito July 26, 2011 at 07:39 PM
We were at the Columbia location this weekend and all the children's books were just 10% off. My daughter wanted to buy some books but the line was an hour long. The cafe was closed as were the bathrooms. We left. It's a shame that Border's wasn't able to muster a regular crowd only 1/4 the size of the one there on Saturday. They would still be in business. The cars in the parking lot were nearing Macaroni Grill and Pier One. Very busy!


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