Bibelot chain to close down its 4 area sites

Locally based bookstores faced financial struggles

March 11, 2001|By Lorraine Mirabella and Laura Vozzella | Lorraine Mirabella and Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Bibelot, the homegrown bookstore chain that became a neighborhood hangout and forum for local authors, is shutting its doors nearly six years after it emerged on a retail scene dominated by bigger, national stores.

The Baltimore area's largest independent book and music seller filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Friday in Baltimore. It plans to close its four stores and lay off an estimated 100 employees within three months.

"It's a real loss for the independent book-selling world," said Avin Mark Domnitz, chief executive officer of the American Booksellers Association in Tarrytown, N.Y.

Bibelot, known for showcasing Maryland authors and luring shoppers with entertainment, comfortable lounges and Donna's restaurants, had expanded even as dominant chains Barnes & Noble and Borders Group Inc. forced hundreds of independent chains out of business.

But Bibelot, which opened its first book and music store in April 1995 in the Woodholme Shopping Center in Pikesville, has struggled financially recently. In May, Bibelot defaulted on a $17 million loan from Bank of America. After defaulting, Bibelot worked unsuccessfully with the bank for several months to find a buyer, said Bibelot's attorney, Joel I. Sher of Shapiro, Sher & Guinot.

The company, which filed under the corporate name Bloomsbury Group, has assets of $10 million to $15 million and debts of $15 million to $18 million, Sher said.

Bibelot had become one of the nation's most prominent independent booksellers, ranking in the top 25 in size, Domnitz said.

"It was an extraordinary organization with great leadership, and I'm taken aback right now," he said.

Brian D. Weese, co-owner with his wife, Elizabeth, would not comment on the closing, which he announced to employees late Friday. But Sher blamed industry trends and poor sales at Bibelot's two city locations.

Donna's, which leases space in all four Bibelots, hopes to keep its restaurants open and is negotiating with the landlords to stay, said Alan Hirsch, business manager and co-owner with Donna Crivello.

"It's very sad," Hirsch said of the Bibelot closings. "They were great stores, and there was a great community feel. There was a great synergy between Bibelot and Donna's. I'm sorry to see it didn't work. It was a big part of our growth."

Sun researcher Sheila Jackson contributed to this article.

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