The final day of the Borders bookstore in Chestnut Hill yesterday attracted droves of bargain shoppers lured by signs promising up to 75 percent off everything, including the shelves.
But another sign - the giant, yellow "Store closing" banner taped to the front of the two-story building at 8701 Germantown Ave. - was a sobering reminder that another victim had been claimed in the fierce competition for book buyers in the age of the Internet.
For retiree Frances Jones, Borders was more than an anchor bookstore in her community. It was a social gathering place, a cultural institution, an oasis in cold weather.
"I'm very sad," Jones said as she and 10-year-old grandson Shelton Jones perused the magazine section, where everything was marked 20 percent off. "I come here, have coffee, sit and chat, and read my books.
"I love books. What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?"
Many wondered the same thing as they indulged rituals for the last time yesterday.
"We make our way to the top of the hill with our bikes and come here, since it's the end of the road," Marie Crosby, 29, said as she sat in the coffee cafe - a feature of most Borders superstores - with her twin 4-year old sons, Edan and Cullen. "We usually stop at the pretzel shop nearby, and then in here for hot chocolate and desserts."
The store, known locally as "the Borders at the top of the hill," where Bethlehem Pike terminates at Germantown Avenue, was a victim of economics.
Borders Group Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich., which owns 513 Borders superstores nationally, has struggled with increased competition from Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and Wal-Mart.
The company reported a loss of $39 million from continuing operations in the third quarter of 2009. Total sales were $595.5 million, down $86.6 million, or 13 percent, from a year earlier.
Sales at Borders superstores open at least a year declined 12 percent in the same period. Inventory was reduced by $99.1 million, led by a reduction in multimedia inventory of $70.4 million, including CDs and DVDs.
Crucial holiday sales results will be announced this month, and fourth-quarter 2009 results will come out in March.
"We look at our stores on a regular basis to make sure they are meeting our business objectives," corporate spokeswoman Mary Davis said Friday.
The Chestnut Hill Borders, which opened in August 1994, "did not meet the company's objectives," she said.
The store's 28 full- and part-time employees were notified in October of the plan to close, Davis said. She said management was working to place them in other Borders stores in the area.
The company has six other superstores and three Borders Express stores - which are in Waldenbooks stores, mostly in malls - in the Philadelphia region. The company has said it will close 182 Borders Express stores.
Yesterday, the Chestnut Hill bookstore had the frenetic feel of an intellectual garage sale. Books on tape were on sale for $1. Most hardback books were 40 percent off. Paperbacks were selling for half or more off.
History buff Eric Lee Smith, 53, of Mount Airy, was among those trolling for treasures. He found a paperback biography and two World War II books on sale. Although he lamented the store's closing, he said that over the last five years things had changed.
"It's had less of an inventory," he said. "At its height, it had one-fifth more inventory than now.
"From my perspective, it became less and less of a leading-edge bookstore and more of a B. Dalton - something you could find in a mall."
The store has until Jan. 31 to fully vacate, and it is "up to the landlord" - Acadia Realty Trust of White Plains, N.Y. - to decide what to do with the building, Davis said.
Acadia leasing agent Janine Forte did not return calls for comment on the future of the 18,538-square-foot property, but Fran O'Donnell, owner of O'Doodles toy store and manager of the Chestnut Hill Business Association, said Forte attended his group's meeting last month.
"We were told they are marketing the property and have had some interest," he said.
The business association pooled its financial resources with several other local business groups and hired a retail consultant around Thanksgiving to gather suggestions for the best use of the building from residents and business leaders. Part of the consultant's job is to forward the information to Acadia. Early suggestions included turning the building over to another bookstore or converting it to a restaurant or movie theater.
Several neighborhood store owners, including those of Tavern on the Hill and Chestnut Hill Sports Inc., which rely heavily on foot traffic from Borders for customers, said they had been anxious since news of the closing became public.
There were already about a dozen storefront vacancies between the 7700 and 8600 blocks of Germantown Avenue.
"It's a landmark. It's part of my address," said Enzo Mandarano, owner of Cosimo's Pizza Cafe. "My menu states we're located 'at the top of the hill across from the Borders bookstore,' not 'across from a vacant building.'
"We were already down for 2009," he said yesterday as several customers holding Borders shopping bags came in for lunch. "I think this is going to hurt us even more."