Borders Books is closing its remaining 399 stores, including one in Oak Park, after failing last weekend to scare up a white knight buyer for the bankrupt chain.
The local Borders is prominently located, at the northeast corner of Lake Street and Harlem Avenue, in a 19,000-square-foot retail space spread across two floors. Pat Zubak, head of the Downtown Oak Park business association, said Borders has consistently been one of the area's top retailers and thinks its closure will have a powerful effect.
"It would be devastating to have that vacant," Zubak said before Borders announced its demise on Monday. "It's an important building in the downtown. It belongs to a retailer with some kind of swagger. You want a significant retailer there, and we've always felt that Borders is significant."
The Michigan-based retailer has canceled an auction of its assets planned for Tuesday, and is accepting a $252 million offer to liquidate its remaining locations. The liquidation could start as soon as Friday, according to a company statement.
"Following the best efforts of all parties, we are saddened by this development," Borders Group President Mike Edwards said in the statement. "We were all working hard towards a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, e-reader revolution, and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now."
Borders has been trying to wrestle itself out of bankruptcy since filing Chapter 11 in February. A suitor was lined up to purchase the company for $215 million and continue operating the remaining 399 stores, but Borders' creditors rejected the deal, according to news reports.
Instead, they favored a $252 million offer from a group of liquidators, who will eventually shutter the remaining stores, including 14 in the Chicago area, after selling off the inventory. The closing process is expected to wrap up by the end of September.
Even its local competition doesn't want to see Borders go. Rachel Weaver, who co-owns The Book Table a few blocks east on Lake Street, said that Borders drives traffic to downtown Oak Park. With it gone, some shoppers will likely just stay home and buy their books online. Seeing the entire chain disappear could drag down the publishing business, she added.
"The last thing that anyone wants to see is for them to close down completely, because it's the ripple wave through the entire publishing industry," Weaver said.
No one knows what might take Borders' place after the local location closes down. Many retailers are reluctant to occupy two floors because you can lose track of employees and customers, along with losing efficiency, said David King, a commercial real estate broker who owns David King & Associates in Oak Park.
"It is the best corner in the village. At the same time, it would be a challenge to find a retailer that would go on two levels," said King, who does not represent the owner of the property.
A call to the property's leasing agent, Nicole Moortgat, on Monday was not returned immediately. Borders set up shop at 1144 Lake in May 2000, according to village hall. The space was previously a discount shoe store, and before that, for many decades a Marshall Field's.