February 23, 2011
Textbooks secret to Mando’s success
Main Street bookstore avoids fate of Borders by shying away from retail
Mando Books owner Tom Terwilliger was not surprised to hear Borders was closing its store at Shops at Ithaca Mall in Lansing.
He decided years ago that his Main Street bookstore’s future lay in textbook sales. Small independent stores like his faced too much competition from the large chains such as Borders and Barnes and Noble.
Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca might also close in the next couple of months. The other bookstores in Ithaca rely mostly on the sale of used books.
Terwilliger said the Borders closing would not affect his business very much.
“I never saw any future in the retail side,” Terwilliger said. “For me, it’s always been about textbooks.”
While Borders is not going out of business, the company announced last week it was filing for bankruptcy and closing about 200 stores.
The Ithaca-area Borders is one of the 200 Borders stores, or about 30 percent of its stores, slated to close by the end of April. The stores are closing because of lower than expected profit margins and sales.
Nine Borders stores in New York are scheduled to close, including the one at Carousel Center in Syracuse, which has been at that mall since 1994.
“The company emphasized that the closings were a reflection of economic conditions, cost structures and viability of locations, among other factors, and not on the dedication and productivity of the work force in these stores,” Borders said in a news release last week.
Terwilliger said Borders’ bankruptcy reflects the challenges bookstores big and small are facing, with increasing competition from Walmart and Amazon.com. The market for digital e-book readers like the Kindle and Nook may have also hurt the paper-based book business.
Terwilliger said he views the local retail section of his bookstore as more of “a community service” than a significant portion of his business. He said the main part of his business comes from textbook sales.
Terwilliger described Mando Books’ selection of retail books as an “airport offering,” with a scattering of cookbooks, the latest releases, gift items and other local-interest books.
Terwilliger said CEO changes, the decision to expand into more “mega stores” and failing to provide a digital e-book reader probably led to Borders’ decision to close some stores and file for bankruptcy.
“I kind of suspected it might,” Terwilliger said of the Borders’ closing. “What that means to me is very little. We just don’t do much business on the retail side.”
Terwilliger said he expects textbooks to make the move to digital but said his business has not been affected yet.
“The digitalization of the book industry is something that’s inevitable,” Terwilliger said. “I know that’s a question a lot of people have.”
Mando Books also has locations in Vestal and New Paltz.
He said consumers expect digital textbooks to be less expensive than printed ones. He said thus far the price difference is not that much.
“I think we know the endgame, we just don’t know when that’s supposed to be,” Terwilliger said of the switch to digital textbooks.
Terwilliger said Walmart and other stores’ expansion into the book market increased competition for Borders.
As she sifted through the shelves at Mando Books on Monday, Cincinnatus Central School librarian Martha Tuning said she was disappointed to hear the Ithaca-area Borders was closing. She said she liked stopping into the bookstore whenever she was at the mall.
“I love Borders,” Tuning said. “I like to go in there and browse. I think the smaller book stores could benefit.”
Tuning said she worries about the future of paper books in the digital age.
“I like the process of reading a book. I just like the tactile,” Tuning said. “I don’t like to have to push buttons when I read.”
When she reads to students, the librarian said she prefers to read from a book than a screen.
“There’s something about a book that’s more personal,” Tuning said.
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