COLUMBIA, SC — The Books-A-Million in Forest Acres’ Trenholm Plaza will close next month, the third major Midlands bookstore to close in the past year.
The store – at Trenholm Road and Forest Drive — put up signs Friday morning saying it was liquidating its inventory, and employees told customers that the store will close March 15.
The closing leaves the Columbia area with just three major bookstores – half of what it had a year ago: Books-A-Million stores in Northeast Richland and Lexington, and a Barnes & Noble in Forest Acres’ Richland Mall.
Forest Acres itself once had three bookstores within a 1.5-mile stretch on Forest Drive, including a longtime independent store, The Happy Bookseller, that closed six years ago.
“We’re not seeing that books are unfashionable. … People are reading more than ever. The publishing industry is changing at a phenomenal rate because of societal changes,” said Marianne Bickle, a retailing professor at the University of South Carolina.
Three trends are working together against the big bookstore concept right now, Bickle said:
• Consumers are shopping online for books, where they often can get them at a discount. “They can get books that look brand-new, and they’re buying them at a competitive price,” Bickle said.
• Emerging technology is making e-readers cheaper and more accessible. More people are using them and getting books electronically at reduced prices – or for free. “People who might not have gone to e-readers before are really starting to look at it as something that is possible,” Bickle said.
• The surges at public libraries are at an all-time high, with people looking for free access to books, DVDs and audiobooks. “It has now become cool to go to the library,” Bickle said. “People are understanding this is a great way to get (materials) without having to pay.”
As with many other businesses, bookstores are searching for a new business model, Bickle said.
“I don’t think the current book retailers know what that really is,” she said. They have tried adding Wi-fi and small cafes in the past few years. “That helped, but obviously, that’s not doing it.”
Books-A-Million’s new concept, 2nd & Charles, which replaced its Harbison store last year, focuses on used, discounted books and electronics but sprinkles some new books into the mix.
It’s an interesting concept, Bickle said. “We’re in a society right now that is teaching people to be smart about your money.”
Some have speculated that the loss of major bookstores could open the door to independent booksellers to bring back some smaller shops to the area.
While it’s nice to have an intimate space to browse for books, the key is having a business plan “that will get people to buy enough to pay the rent,” Bickle said.
“It’s great that they can get people in the door,” she said. “What is going to get people to purchase at their store? That’s the whole ticket.”
The Midlands has lost three major bookstores in the past year, including:
Books-A-Million, closing March 15 at Trenholm Plaza in Forest Acres
Barnes & Noble, closed in December on Harbison Boulevard in Irmo, being turned into a Nordstrom Rack
Books-A-Million, closed in April on Harbison Boulevard in Irmo, was converted into a 2nd & Charles, the chain’s used-bookstore concept
Three major bookstores are left in the area:
Barnes & Noble, Richland Mall, Forest Drive
Books-A-Million, Village at Sandhill, Northeast Richland
Books-A-Million, North Lake Drive, Lexington
Next up at Trenholm Plaza
The Edens firm, Trenholm Plaza’s shopping center owners and operators, was mum Friday on its plans for the space being vacated by Books-A-Million. But it likely won’t be long before a new tenant is announced. Rumors abound that two upscale clothing stores are planned for the spot.
Edens has renovated Trenholm Plaza in recent years, bringing an upscale feel and shops including Ann Taylor Loft and Jos. A. Bank.
Clothing retailer fab’rik will open across the parking lot soon, according to the store’s website and signs on the window beside Hooligan’s Deli. The store describes itself as “a shop-a-holic’s dream” that delivers “high style without attitude or sticker shock.” All items are limited quantity and cost less than $100 – except the denim, according to the website.