Plans to shelve Bibelot surprise patrons

Some customers have gift certificates stores cannot honor

March 12, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

It is Samantha Bloom's favorite hangout. When the 12-year-old from Owings Mills and her younger brother, Eric, 9, have a free day, they often ask their mother, Rachel Bloom, to take them to the Bibelot bookstore in Pikesville.

But yesterday the trip brought Samantha to tears when her mother explained that the store was going out of business.

"Please don't close!" Samantha begged a reporter who she initially thought worked for the four-store chain that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Friday.

The Baltimore area's largest independent book and music seller, Bibelot has become a neighborhood gathering place and forum for local authors in the almost six years since the first store opened. It plans to close its stores and lay off an estimated 100 employees within three months.

Although many customers were upset about losing the stores, others were upset about losing money. Angry customers lined up to ask powerless employees why their gift certificates were not being honored.

"Are you telling me my gift certificate is absolutely worthless?" asked Bill Vanko of Ellicott City.

"I think it stinks," he said. "They continue to take your money - why don't they honor the money they have already taken?"

"It's just not right," said Hal Levy of Pikesville, who was given a $45 gift certificate when he returned books recently. "They already have my money."

Bibelot's attorney, Joel I. Sher of Shapiro, Sher & Guinot, said gift certificates are considered debts by the bankruptcy court, so the stores are not allowed to honor them.

Sher said he plans to talk to Bibelot's creditors and the court to see if the stores can get permission to accept gift certificates. If not, customers with gift certificates - who are considered creditors of the Bloomsbury Group, the corporate entity that owns the store - can file a proof of claim with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Baltimore. Sher said those forms are available at the court and at most stationery stores. He said he also hopes to begin distributing them at the Bibelot stores soon.

At the Canton store in the restored American Can Co., Danny Coker of Highlandtown and his girlfriend, Lisa Carpenter, were surprised to learn that the Bibelot was closing as they read the paper and sipped chai and coffee in front of the Donna's restaurant, which leases space in the stores.

"That's a shame," Coker said. "We really don't have any other bookstores in the Canton or Highlandtown area other than used bookstores."

Now, he said, he'll have to try to "beat the crowds" at the Barnes & Noble store at the Inner Harbor.

Nearby, Lori Widener, a first-year master's student at University of Maryland, Baltimore's School of Social Work, sipped her coffee and read the paper as she does every Sunday morning before heading to her part-time job at Madison Boutique, also in the shopping complex.

"I like it a lot better than going into a large book chain," she said. "I know it is an independent bookstore, so it's more appealing to me."

She is worried about the effect of Bibelot's closing on the boutique.

"A lot of people come over to Madison's after shopping at Bibelot," she said. "I think it's going to hurt our business."

Perched on a low stool inside the Bibelot store, where exposed silver ducts decorate the high ceiling, Kenny Okoro of Baltimore flipped through a computer guide. He said he likes the atmosphere at Bibelot, where he can browse through the books before he buys.

"I must have spent at least a thousand dollars at this bookstore," he said. "But what can you do if they are not making money?"

Back at the Pikesville store, Rachel Bloom and her friends, Wendy and Evan Feldman of Mount Washington, sat on the floor in the children's section, lamenting the closing of the stores as their kids weaved in and out of the aisles, pulling books off the shelf to flip through on the small table.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Wendy Feldman, who brings her children, 11-month-old Nicholas and 2-year-old Harley, to the Pikesville store about twice a week. "It's intellectually stimulating as well as fun. Where are we going to go now?"

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