Demise of Borders recalls the end of Remington's

Longtime Baltimore store closed in the 1980s

July 23, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

The news that Borders, the nation's second-largest book chain, is giving up the ghost and closing its doors after 40 years came as no real surprise to anyone.

The Wall Street Journal observed last week that Borders' exit was the "'first major casualty of the digital era in buying and reading books."

The Borders empire, which was founded in 1971 in Ann Arbor, Mich., by Tom and Louis Borders, had grown to 500 stores nationwide, while its chief competitor, Barnes & Noble, is No. 1 with 717 stores.

Borders had six stores in the Baltimore area and surrounding counties; Barnes & Noble operates four stores.

While e-books have contributed to the economic woes of bookstore owners, the popularity of Amazon.com's discount overnight book service hasn't helped either.

Bookstores in Baltimore have come and gone for decades.

Such haunts have included Smith's on Howard Street, Second Story on North Charles Street as well as Louie's Bookstore & Cafe, which replaced Kramer Books across the street from Second Story.

The book department of Hochschild, Kohn & Co., Frigate Book Store on Howard Street, Book Bag in Cross Keys, Schill's Book Shop on West Franklin Street, and the John Gach Book Shop on Greenmount Avenue were also casualties.

But some marked survivors have endured for decades in spite of the vast technological changes that have swept the industry in recent years: Allen's Book Shop, Royal Books, Johanson's Rare Books, Gordon booksellers, the Children's Bookstore in Roland Park, and some fairly recent additions such as The Ivy Book Shop on Falls Road.

When Pippen's Old Book Store in the 600 block of N. Eutaw St., which was Maryland's oldest, having been founded in 1854, shut its doors and auctioned its inventory in 1961, lamentations arose from newspaper editorial writers.

"It has been said — even as recently as this week — that good bookstores have a hard time surviving in Baltimore because of the comprehensiveness and efficiency of the Pratt Library, which has made us a town of borrowers instead of buyers," an editorial in The Baltimore Sun observed at the time.

"A Baltimorean who wants a book which is of special interest and neither recently published nor a former best seller is almost forced to take his trade out of town," the editorial said. "Even recently published books are hard to find if they are not near the best-seller category. Can the bookseller tell why, any more than the theater people can say why this has become one of the worst theater-going cities in the country."

When the Remington Book Store folded in 1986, it marked the end of one of the city's best-known and most-reliable booksellers. It had been serving Baltimoreans since its founding in 1910 by Stanley G. Remington and William Wollstonecraft Norman, an Oxford-educated scholar.

Remington had entered the book business in 1894 working for Joseph M. Cushing, and after realizing he needed more money, took a job with a local railroad compiling statistics. Bored, he returned to the book business when he took a job at J. Edward Nunn on North Howard Street, and then shifted to Eichelberger's Book Store at 327 N. Charles St.

The partners moved the Norman Remington Co. store in 1916 to the southeast corner of Charles and Mulberry streets, and remained together for the next 15 years until Remington bought out Norman in 1931.

In a 1921 article in The Sun, Remington said while "Main Street" and "The Sheik" were high on the list of best sellers, "it is the 'Old Mother Goose' and other nursery characters that book sellers look to for steady sales year in and year out," and added that the Bible also brought in steady revenue.

In addition to serving the book-buying public, Remington's was the purchasing agent for the Enoch Pratt, Peabody, Hopkins and Goucher libraries. Remington also had a used-book section devoted to Marylandia.

Remington died in 1951. His son, John T. Remington, took over operation of the business in 1930 and ran it until his death in 1978, when it was taken over by his son, John C. Remington.

In 1936, John T. Remington opened one of the first suburban branches of a downtown store with a second bookstore in Waverly. Eventually, the company added stores in the Continental Trust Building at Baltimore and Calvert streets, at Towson Plaza, Cranbrook Shopping Center and in the 6300 block of York Road in Anneslie.

"Remington's is where the typical Baltimorean goes if he wishes to obtain in one transaction the No. 1 item on the New York Times list of best-sellers in fiction, the Modern Library edition — all 7 volumes — of Proust's masterpiece, and the latest edition of Merriman Webster's Biographical Dictionary," editorial writer and historian Gerald W. Johnson wrote in The Sun in 1977.

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