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What do a 30-year-old book on writing and a bottle of Dr. Pepper-flavored gourmet jelly beans have in common? I bought both for 30 percent off when my local Borders bookstore went out of business in December. And your nearest store could be next.
According to the 21-page bankruptcy petition [PDF] that Borders Group, Inc., filed on Feb. 16, the company’s debts outweigh its assets by more than $17.5 million. As a result, they’re forced to downsize and attempt to stay alive on a smaller scale.
“Borders is not going out of business,” confirms BordersReorganization.com, which was launched alongside the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. “Borders, however, will be closing underperforming stores within our network over the next several weeks.”
But bad news for the bookseller means good news for bargain-hunting book lovers. Borders expects to close 204 stores by April, which means chances are high that you too may be able to cash in. Borders plans to hold liquidation sales in these stores.
To find out if a store in your area is closing, just check Borders’ own list, helpfully alphabetized by state and then city.
To find out how you and your pocketbook can take advantage of these stores, read on…
1. Scope out everything
When my local Borders hung signs that said “everything must go,” they weren’t kidding. In addition to the marked-down books, music, and gifts, even the couches worn in by page-flipping and coffee-sipping customers and the bookshelves themselves were for sale. So don’t discriminate as you browse.
2. Be sure you want it
Even if the item you’re eying is marked down, take a moment to think about whether it’s still worth the money. Items purchased during liquidation sales are often non-returnable. The signs that hung in the windows of my Borders before it closed for good clearly stated that everything must go – and that nothing was returnable. But even if yours doesn’t say so, it’s wise to assume that’s the case if you don’t want to get stuck paying for what turns out to be an impulse buy or a defective product.
3. Be sure it’s the best deal
When my Borders started its liquidation sale, everything was 30 to 40 percent off, although that amount can vary from store to store. But even if you find something marked down by 50 percent or more, realize that it still may not be the best deal. Especially if you’re willing to buy used, a used bookstore or marketplace-like website may sell the same item for even less than a liquidating Borders.
I frequently browse bookstores but rarely purchase books from them. I use them to scope out books I’m interested in and then go home to find them for less money on sites like Half.com. (It just so happened that adding a crisp, clean, hardcover copy of On Writing Well to my book collection was well worth the 30-percent-off price tag.) Because you can’t really give used books as gifts, however, liquidation sales are also a great time to purchase presents (remember: Easter is in April and Mothers’ Day is in May) – as long as you’re sure the recipient won’t want to return them.
4. Spend gift cards while you can
Borders claims their gifts cards won’t be affected by their bankruptcy. “Customers can redeem their Borders’s gift cards as usual in all stores and Borders.com,” according to BordersReorganization.com. “They can also purchase gift cards online and in many stores nationwide.”
The thing is, now’s not the best time to take Borders’ word on the topic. Historically, the value of gift cards issued by bankrupt and even soon-to-be-bankrupt companies has been unpredictable.
“In the past, some troubled retailers have continued to honor gift cards while restructuring under bankruptcy reorganization, while others put restrictions on how the cards could be used,” The Detroit News reported last month. “But the stores may not have a choice if a bankruptcy court decides to put claims from gift card holders at the back of the line of creditors.”
And Borders’ line of creditors is both long and expensive. According to their bankruptcy petition, Borders owes hundreds of millions to at least 30 companies, like publishers and greeting card manufacturers. So, if you want to be on the safe side, spend your gift cards ASAP – and certainly don’t purchase any.
5. Save with a smile
Last but not least, remember to be nice – and neat. As shelves empty during liquidation sales, products tend to get tossed about by frenzied shoppers who are too focused on digging for the best deal to be considerate of staff.
I visited a closing Borders just before the holidays, so it was especially busy and messy. One employee snapped at me when I picked up a notebook from a display that he said he had just painstakingly reorganized. Normally, I would have snapped right back or considered reporting him, but instead, I apologized and promised to put the item back where I found it. After all, the holidays were approaching and the poor guy may not have known when he would lose his health insurance or find his next paycheck. Besides, courtesy doesn’t cost a dime.