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For Buck a Book

Cape Code Online

For Buck a Book, it's The End
By CHRISTIE SMYTHE
Published: September 28, 2005

If they didn't know it before they walked in, customers could tell by the signs: “Total liquidation. Nothing held back.” Buck A Book, a discount book and gift store in the Cape Cod Factory Outlet Mall in Sagamore, is on the way out.

Prices for all its merchandise have been slashed by either 30 percent or 50 percent, and the store is slated to remain open until everything is sold.

Started about 15 years ago, the Sagamore store was the first in a chain that, at its peak, included 30 locations throughout New England, according to company president and CEO Bruce Moyer.

But the company's rapid expansion backfired in the economic downturn of 2001, leading Buck A Book to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Buck A Book emerged from bankruptcy in 2002, having pared its stores to 10.

Now, after hitting another rough patch, that number is being cut again. “Last Christmas was dismal and the year was an absolute struggle,” he said.

With the help of Boston retail consultant the Gordon Brothers Group, Buck A Book is closing its lowest-performing stores - which include the Sagamore location as well as others in Massachusetts - and keeping just two stores in Connecticut.

Most of the employees of the closing stores will be laid off, he said. There are about 15 employees at the Sagamore location.

The fate of the remaining two stores is still uncertain, he added. Moyer suspects that competition from big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, as well as from online booksellers, is what is doing him in.

“It's very difficult for an independent retailer to survive,” said Moyer, whose corporate headquarters is in North Dighton. The bigger stores could often undersell him, and his margins were constantly shrinking, he said. “No matter how cheap we sold stuff, it wasn't cheap enough.”

But Lynn Switanowski of Boston-based Creative Business Consulting Group might beg to differ. Switanowski, who specializes in consulting for small and medium-sized businesses, said Buck A Book's prices have been edging up in recent years, and it wasn't living up to its name.

More importantly, she said, as more and more shoppers have been buying books and gifts online, the stores didn't offer anything unique to attract customers. “They were not clean, they were sort of unorganized, they were not well-lit and not well-signed and they lost the buck section,” she said.

Summer sales at bookstores across the nation have been slipping over the past couple of years - as sales online and for retail in general have been going up.

Adjusted for inflation, bookstore sales across the nation for June and July fell by 2.8 percent in 2004 and by 5.4 percent in 2004, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sales for most other retailers in general rose by 6.93 percent during those months in 2004 and by 5.3 percent in 2005, according to the data.

Switanowski said it is a good idea for all small businesses, not only book sellers, to stay on top of industry trends. “Even in tough retail climates, smaller businesses can stay competitive by getting to know their target consumers and making sure they meet their customers' needs.”

Mary Wagner, who has owned Mary's Bookstore in East Sandwich for 13 years, has kept a strong customer base by specializing in mystery novels. To keep customers, she said: “You have to know your customers, and you have to know your books.”

Some customers shopping Monday afternoon at the Sagamore Buck A Book echoed Switanowski, and said that prices have crept up in recent years, and the stores were cluttered with too many kinds of merchandise.

But others said they loved the store for its bargains, and will miss it when it's gone.

Jackie Comeau of Plympton said she frequented the store when her children were young. When one of her children had trouble reading, she loved being able to shop for low-priced books-on-tape. Of the store's closing, she said: “I was very, very sad.”

Christie Smythe can be reached at csmythe@capecodonline.com
Copyright, 2005, Cape Cod Times. All Rights Reserved.