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Final Chapter Begins for Borders in Rancho Santa Margarita

Bookstore chain is closing its remaining 399 stores, including the local outlet. Liquidation could take up to six weeks. A city official says the closure won't crimp sales-tax revenues too much.

Last Friday night was no ordinary closing time at the Borders bookstore in Rancho Santa Margarita. Despite the late hour, the place was buzzing with customers rummaging through books, CDs and gifts looking for deals.

The store manager's voice crackled over the loudspeaker: "The store is closing. We need everyone to get in line to make final purchases and please do it quickly because it’s been a long day for us and we’d like to go home."

The day certainly had been long. News came down that Borders Group Inc. would begin liquidating and closing all of its bookstores, including five locations in Orange County, one of which is the only commercial bookstore in Rancho Santa Margarita. 

Employees, after learning they would lose their jobs, had to set up the store with discount signs: 10 percent to 40 percent off books, 40 percent off magazines, 10 percent off CDs, "ABSOLUTELY NO RETURNS" and "EVERYTHING MUST GO!" After closing, a big sign was plastered on the outside of the store that summed up the situation: "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS."

The liquidation process should take at least two weeks and perhaps as many as six, according to store employees.

The idealized image of a small town includes the hustle and bustle at the market, a bank, a restaurant and a place to buy books. But with the changing landscape of book publishing, a physical store is no longer necessary.

According to analysts, Borders’ closing had to do with the company’s weak Internet presence and its inability to enter the electronic reader market.

Lori LaFavre, a Rancho Santa Margarita resident who came to check out the sales Friday afternoon, said she does most of her book shopping online and owns an Amazon Kindle. 

“The Internet and the electronic reader have stopped me from buying books at the store, I’m sorry to say,” she said. “I find the closing to be very sad.”

For some, a bookstore is more than just another retail business. It's an escape. Whether browsing or buying, customers can get lost in the shelves, traveling to other parts of the world and other times through fiction and nonfiction. And many bookstores offer a mellow place to just hang out.

That’s what drew Borders employee Alex Price, 26, of Portola Hills, to the job two years ago. 

"When I was younger, I remembered thinking that the cool art-indie kids worked there," said Price. "I’ve worked other retail and odd places, but this has been my favorite job."

Price, who has a degree in literature, said the general feeling among employees was that their particular location was still profitable. And he believes there is still enough demand for a bookstore to operate in Rancho Santa Margarita.

"I’d love to see a mom and pop bookstore open up here," Price said. 

Since the closing was announced, the store has been packed with customers. At the end of Friday night, the checkout line stretched and looped around bookshelves toward the back of the store. On Saturday afternoon, the store was busy once again with customers looking to find deals.

"I was in here at lunch and I’m back now because the line wrapped around the store and I thought, 'Had all these people been here earlier maybe it wouldn’t be going out of business,' " LaFavre said.

The closure leaves residents with the options of shopping online or traveling to Barnes & Noble stores in Aliso Viejo or Irvine. 

Although book lovers are disappointed, the financial effect on the city should be negligible, a government official said.

"It’s always regrettable when a business is forced to stop operating in RSM," said Paul Boyer, the city's administrative services director. "And it’s more regrettable to lose the only business that fills a particular void."

Borders was a top 25 sales tax producer for the city in the fourth quarter of 2010, but Boyer said the bookstore was in the bottom five on that list. So the shutdown won't subtract much from city revenues.

Borders is but the latest in a string of businesses--Licorice Pizza, Wherehouse, Blockbuster, Tower Records, Crown Books and others--upended by the changing marketplace for entertainment. On Friday and Saturday, there were long lines and long faces to prove it. 

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