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Bookstores Taking Hit As Times Change

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MASSENA - A Massena mall trying to lure shoppers and businesses back through its doors will lose yet another draw this fall after Borders Group Inc. announced it will shutter its bookstore in the St. Lawrence Centre Mall.
The closing of the Borders-owned Waldenbooks is part of a chain-wide liquidation effort set to take effect in September.
Approximately a dozen shoppers browsed the shelves of the bookstore one day late last week, scanning the shelves of discounted merchandise.
"There is so much neat stuff in here," said Victoria L. Ward, 46, of Massena as she thumbed through the pages of books marked 40 percent off. "I always like to come in here and look around."
But Borders and its clients aren't the only bookstores suffering.
June M. Tessier, owner of The Paperback Browser, said sales in her North Lawrence bookstore have been "very bad" in the past month. Several other local bookstores said they too have seen a recent decline in sales.
The tough economy has hurt used bookstores, Ms. Tessier said, and with people watching every dollar they spend, extra money to buy books just isn't an option for many.
"We still get people coming in here and browsing through the books," she said. "But they aren't buying as many as they used to."
And with the introduction of e-books and Kindles, some owners are worried that books, like cassette tapes, MySpace and Model-Ts, will become a thing of the past.
Technologically savvy youth tend to shy away from books, instead flocking to the computer screens they grew up with, Mrs. Tessier said.
"Older generations grew up reading with books in their hands," Mrs. Tessier said. "Younger generations - not so much."
Timothy Strong, owner of Birchbark Bookstore in Parishville with a branch at Evans and White in Potsdam, said he doesn't blame technology so much as rising gas prices for the decline in sales his store has seen.
With over 50,000 used books to choose from, Birchbark used to be a popular destination for readers from around the region, he said. But with gas prices approaching $4 dollars per gallon, people can't afford to make the drive to his shop in rural Parishville.
"I think people aren't traveling as much as the used to," he said. "When gas was cheap, we would get people coming from Plattsburgh and Watertown and every place in between. Now, we don't see that much of those people."
While Mr. Strong expects the used book industry to bounce back after the economy has recovered, big chain bookstores like Borders will have a tough time attracting customers, he said.
He said the large book shops have brought their recent struggles on themselves after gouging customers for a number of years.
"I think the new book industry is dead and rightfully so," he said. "They have just been so piggish for so long. A regular old hardcover can be produced for a quarter apiece and they are charging people 12 to 14 dollars."
But even as bookstores, large and small, continue to falter, university bookstores remain unaffected. Textbook sales and other merchandise prop up the sales numbers in the stores, according to one manager, ensuring the university run stores will be around for the long haul.
"We are doing perfectly fine," Melinda M. Goss, assistant manager at the St. Lawrence University Bookstore said. "As a university store, we have a built in audience."

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