chapter 11 bookstores by abe25


									                           The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

                        April 26, 2004 Monday Home Edition

SECTION: Gwinnett; Pg. 1JJ

LENGTH: 860 words

HEADLINE: Bookstore's next chapter;
Regulars say the former Waldenbooks in Norcross has retained its small-store feel
since being purchased by Chapter 11.



It has been nearly two months since the Atlanta-based chain of Chapter 11
Bookstores bought the old Waldenbooks on Holcomb Bridge Road in Norcross.

The purchase seemed an answer to the prayers and pleas of dozens of longtime
patrons who had tried to persuade Waldenbooks' parent company, Borders Group,
not to shutter the store. Sure, the Norcross Waldenbooks was part of a chain, but
after 15 years in the same location, it felt like a mom-and-pop business and
neighbors thought it was worth fighting for. The tale of the rallying patrons and the
store's purchase even merited a story in a recent issue of Publishers Weekly.

But the episode raises a more peculiar question about the increasingly chain-laden,
suburban retail landscape: At what point does a chain store become as beloved in
the eyes of its customers as a true, independent neighborhood business?

"Mayberry looks very different today than it did 30 years ago," said Tim Mescon,
dean of the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. "Today, the
general public in suburban America identifies with those national chains. They're the
retail that we know. Those local names, they don't mean anything anymore, or they
mean much less."

As promised, Chapter 11 owner Perry Tanner retained the former Waldenbooks staff,
including assistant manager George Scott, a fixture on the local books scene. The
store has been allowed to keep much of its neighborhood flavor and format,
including the near-weekly author appearances for which the location has become
known. Customers seem pleased.

John Manning is a regular. On one of his visits recently, he was searching for a
suspense thriller. Scott offered up "The Amber Room" by Steve Berry, a title Scott
was pretty sure Manning hadn't read. Scott prides himself on knowing the reading
habits of the regulars. He was right: Manning hadn't read the book.

"It doesn't matter who owns this place, I'm here because of George," Manning said.
"He cares about the people who come in here."
Finding a 'family feeling'

In Manning's comment, experts say, lies a key to what helps blur the line between
actual independent operations and those that appear to be. A chain location has to
provide the same sort of service that a small, single shop might.

That means knowing and treating customers as one might a friend. A textbook,
Business 101 lesson, perhaps, but in an age where a person is more likely to get
poor customer service than not, that lesson is critical, said Michael Solomon, human
sciences professor of consumer behavior at Auburn University. Solomon is author of
"Conquering Consumerspace: Marketing Strategies for a Branded World."

"Everybody's not looking for a family experience when they shop," Solomon said.
"But for that consumer who is, they are looking for personalization of service.

"The family place is being displaced," he said. "But consumers can get that family
feeling from some of the chains."

A "family feeling," as Solomon puts it, is exactly the sort of environment Katie
Moushegian was looking for when she started shopping at the Norcross
Waldenbooks. To her, the big-box stores were intimidating and impersonal. The
Norcross store felt right, she said. Moushegian liked the way the staff came to know
her by name and what sort of books she liked. She appreciated the way Scott and
other staff members would introduce her to other customers.

An independent chain

Despite the fact that the Norcross store was, and is, part of a chain, Scott and store
manager Amy Hartwig ran the place for years as though it were an independent.
Scott would contact authors directly, often scoring visits that larger stores inside the
Perimeter could not. He and Hartwig developed reputations in local literary circles as
people devoted to books. Yet, Borders Group, which owned the store until the first of
the year, saw it as an underperformer and decided to close it.

It's the sort of business decision that can frustrate consumers, as it did with loyalists
of the Holcomb Bridge store. What Scott and his staff had built was something
customers felt was theirs, something akin to a town meeting center.

"The key is how do you convert a retail outlet [into] a destination center," said
Kennesaw State's Mescon. "For example, have you gone into a Starbucks lately?
Everybody is in a meeting. You've got refreshments, Internet access, the New York
Times. What more do you need? Why leave?"

Keeping its charm

Chapter 11 owner Tanner saw the Holcomb Bridge store as a ready-made destination
center, perfect for adding to his company's 14-store roster. It fit his plan to expand
gradually his chain of smaller "neighborhood" booksellers, he said. It also did not
hurt that the store was pretty much the only general interest bookstore in Norcross
not attached to a large shopping mall.

Whether it fits into Tanner's grand scheme is of little importance to customers such
as Moushegian. As long as the store retains its "charm," she said, it doesn't matter
who signs the checks or pays the rent.

"I'll go out of my way to get that extra TLC," Moushegian said. "It's like a close

GRAPHIC: Photo: George Scott (right) helps Joseph Nwanze find a book at the
Chapter 11 Bookstore in Norcross. Scott was retained as assistant manager when the
former Waldenbooks closed. / LAURA NOEL / Staff; Photo: Loyal shoppers such as
Marlene Jones who fought to keep their favorite book nook open when the corporate
bookstore pulled out of the market, have been pleased with the lack of changes
made to the store. / LAURA NOEL / Staff; Photo: The new Chapter 11 where
Jonathan Asay works has been allowed to keep much of its neighborhood flavor and
format./ LAURA NOEL / Staff

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