After closing Bel Air bookstore, Bibelot plans to open in Canton Local independent battles large national bookselling chains


August 08, 1998|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Bibelot, the Baltimore region's largest independent book and music retailer, has closed its Bel Air store and said yesterday it will relocate inventory and some employees to Canton.

The 3-year-old, locally owned bookseller, which has stores in Pikesville and Timonium, will open a 16,000-square-foot book and music emporium in late October in the restored American Can Co. near Canton's waterfront, said Brian D. Weese, who is co-owner with his wife, Elizabeth.

The chain also is negotiating for space in the Mall in Columbia and plans further expansion in the Baltimore region, Weese said, adding:

"We're committed to Baltimore, and we will remain committed to Baltimore."

Weese said he decided to close the 24,000-square-foot Bel Air store, which opened in October 1996 in a strip center behind Harford Mall, because of limited resources that would be better spent in Canton.

He would not discuss the performance of the Bel Air store, which shut its doors for good at the close of business Thursday. The 40 employees there will have a chance to move to the Canton store, he said.

Bibelot, with its comfortable lounges, special events and a Donna's coffee bar and cafe in each store, entered the Harford County market at the same time as Barnes & Noble Inc., which put a store nearby on Route 24 in Tollgate Marketplace. It was unclear what role that competition played in Weese's decision.

"Who knows? There's no way to quantify how much business they are doing," he said. "We have limited resources and had to figure out the best use of those resources. Moving them to Canton will be the best use of those funds."

The Canton store will feature 80,000 titles, 50,000 compact discs and cassettes, a large children's department and a Donna's.

Weese said he still believes his local chain can effectively compete with the national chains, noting that the Timonium Bibelot has fared well, despite its proximity to a Borders book and music store in Towson.

Barnes & Noble plans to open a store up the street from Borders in Towson before Thanksgiving and will open in September at the Power Plant at the Inner Harbor.

Bibelot is looking at several potential sites in the Baltimore metropolitan area, said Karen Wilner, a principal at KLNB Inc., the Towson brokerage firm handling Bibelot's site selection.

At the Barnes & Noble in Bel Air, Bibelot's closing surprised manager Lori Hamm, who said she had believed a county known for high library lending rates could support two large bookstores.

"We're always sorry anytime a bookstore closes, even though we're competitors," she said. "It was probably just a little much for both, such large bookstores."

Despite the closing, the independent Bibelot is bucking a trend in which dominant chains Barnes & Noble and Borders Group Inc., as well as other bookselling outlets, have forced hundreds of independent chains out of business, said Len Vlahos, communications director for the American Booksellers Association.

The Weeses opened their first book and music store in April 1995 in the Woodholme Shopping Center, followed by the Bel Air store and then, in November 1996, a store in Timonium Crossings.

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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