Books-A-Million prepares for first Maine store in South Portland

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Company says former Borders customers should feel right at home

SOUTH PORTLAND — Books-A-Million, which became the nation’s second-largest book seller with the demise of Borders earlier this year, will soon open in the former Borders building at the Maine Mall.

The mall store and two others at former Borders stores in Bangor and Auburn mark the Birmingham, Ala., company’s first operations in Maine.

Company spokeswoman Jane Hoerner was reluctant to specify when the South Portland store would open, but said it would be soon.

“People are in the store right now, unloading boxes, setting things up,” she said Wednesday.

Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Feb. 16 and announced plans to liquidate its assets and close all its stores. An initial deal to sell off the company’s assets failed in July and Borders’ property went to auction. The last remaining Borders stores closed in September.

Books-A-Million acquired the lease for the 30,000-square-foot South Portland store in late August for nearly $169,000, as part of a $934,000 deal for 14 stores. The company ultimately acquired 41 former Borders properties.

Customers who frequented the Maine Mall Borders – which was reportedly one of the most profitable locations in the Borders chain and the most expensive location in the 14-store package – should feel right at home at Books-A-Million, Hoerner said.

“We certainly hope there’s a sense of familiarity when people walk through the door,” she said. “We hope to have the same look and feel, and even some familiar faces.”

Hoerner said the South Portland store will employ about 30 full- and part-time workers, and probably more during the holiday season, including some former Borders staffers.

Like Borders, Books-A-Million will sell books, DVDs and electronic accessories, and will have a coffee shop, called Joe Muggs Cafe. Unlike Borders, Wi-Fi access at the cafe will be limited to members of the store’s Millionaire’s Club rewards program.

But the most marked difference between the stores is technological: While Borders was late to the e-book trend, Books-A-Million sells the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader. Customers will be able to try Nooks in the store before deciding whether to buy.

“All businesses have had to adapt” to changing markets, Hoerner said. “All I can say is we’re excited to be growing into new markets and sharing the Books-A-Million experience.”

Books-A-Million stores also have a section called Faithpoint, which features bibles, Christian fiction and books on Christian living, according to a company news release. A PubTrack report cited by Publisher’s Weekly in August said 17 percent of the company’s sales came from religious books, compared to 7 percent at Borders and 10 percent at Barnes & Noble.

While Faithpoint focuses on Christian books, a search of the company’s online store also turned up results for books about other faiths. Hoerner downplayed the company’s reputation as a religious retailer, and said Books-A-Million’s selection isn’t that different from other major booksellers.

“We’re a bookstore,” she said. “All bookstores sell a wide variety of titles. Christian fiction is one of them, and it’s a growing category. All bookstores sell bibles.”

The company was founded in 1917 as a street-corner news stand in Florence, Ala. It now operates more than 200 stores in 23 states, according to its website.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.