It's big, it's a bookstore, it's Bibelot

April 22, 1995|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,Sun Staff Writer

Book lovers, read this: Brian Weese, former president of Encore Books, has started a local book "superstore" company and expects to have three or four area stores by the end of 1996. The first opens in Pikesville next week.

The chain's name is Bibelot, a French-derived word that is related to "bauble," is pronounced "BEE-buh-low" and means "small treasure."

Mr. Weese was out of a job last year when drug-store chain Rite Aid Corp. sold its 93-store Encore division to Lauriat's Inc. His next career step: his own book chain, based in the region that has been his home since 1992.

The Pikesville Bibelot, in a shopping center called the Festival at Woodholme on Reisterstown Road, is an airy, well-stocked store of the type that is changing book selling.

It offers 25,000 square feet of selling space, as much as a medium-size supermarket. It has a coffee bar and soft couches. It carries enough books -- 100,000 -- and recorded music -- 30,000 tapes and CDs -- to delight the most leisured browser.

It resembles the book superstores being opened across the country by Barnes & Noble and Borders Books & Music. Borders has a store in Towson and one about to open in Columbia.

Superstores are "really what's happening now in terms of book retailing," said Mr. Weese, 39, sitting amid unpacked parcels and half-stacked shelves in the Pikesville store this week. "Bookselling has evolved from a convenience, a service . . . to becoming a whole shopping experience. You've got the ambience of a library, or a comfortable home, nice seating, the amenities of a cafe."

The Pikesville space was supposed to be an Encore store. But Lauriat's doesn't run big stores and didn't want the site. Mr. Weese bought the lease.

"I think the location is as good as you're going to find in the United States for the superstore concept," said Martin Grass, chairman and chief executive of Rite Aid Corp., based in Camp Hill, Pa.

Mr. Weese declined to disclose financial details about the company except to say that stocking the Pikesville store alone is costing up to $1.5 million.

Five years ago, few bookstores were bigger than 10,000 square feet. Now, Barnes & Noble has 300 superstores; Borders, more than 60, said John Mutter, executive editor of bookselling for Publishers Weekly in New York. Independents and mall bookstores feel the pressure.

"The amount of square footage devoted to book retail has gone up almost geometrically while book sales themselves have been healthy, but they've not gone up nearly as fast," Mr. Mutter said. "So everybody figures there's going to be some sort of shakeout. . . . I've heard people in the business predict that in 10 years you might have 1,000 superstores across the country doing like $10 billion in business."

The book trade today, including educational texts, generates about $16 billion in annual sales. A store like Bibelot, which will employ 70 full- and part-timers, might take in $4 million yearly.

By putting his first stores here, an area he knows well, Mr. Weese figures he'll have an advantage over the national chains.

For example, to cater to neighborhood tastes, the Pikesville store will have extra-large sections for children's books, travel literature and Jewish history and literature.

Other superstore operators don't seem to be moving quickly in Baltimore. Besides the two Borders sites, the only other large area book stores are Greetings & Readings in Towson and a Barnes & Noble superstore in Annapolis.

"It takes a person that spends a lot of time in the market to know where stores are needed here," said Mr. Weese, whose own reading tends to history and mysteries. "There certainly are some opportunities."

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