AUBURN — It's not official — not even close, really. But people are worried.
Waldenbooks at the Auburn Mall is at risk of closure due to financial problems suffered by its parent company, Borders Group. Should the store be shut down, it would leave local readers and browsers with a dilemma for the ages: Travel a half-hour to the chain bookstores in Augusta or Portland? Or give up on print books altogether and start doing it all online?
"For every bookstore that closes," lamented 41-year-old John Frechette, "probably 100 game stores open."
And that is just the point. At Waldenbooks early Friday night, more than a dozen people roamed the aisles. They were quietly flipping through magazines, mulling the back cover blurbs, experiencing the tactile relationship between reader and book.
They were obviously people who still enjoy the bookstore experience. But so many more have taken to reading electronically, either online or with the help of a book reader such as the Nook or the Kindle.
"I work in a cafe connected to an independent book shop," 40-year old Ann Dearborn said, "and thanks to Kindle, Nook, etc., we have seen a huge decline."
The popularity of electronic books is rising every day. Recently, Amazon announced that it is selling more Kindle books than print.
But not everybody is ready to go electronic.
If Waldenbooks were to close, it would mean the last of the mainstream bookstores in the Twin Cities. The Mr. Paperback stores went under in recent years. The big chains, like Barnes & Noble and Borders never made it here. The remaining bookstores either sell used editions or have shrunk their book inventory in favor of small gift items.
"We're the only game left in town," a Waldenbooks clerk said Friday night.
Borders Group Inc. on Thursday asked the bankruptcy court’s permission to close 51 stores around the country to satisfy a condition of its bankruptcy financing. Borders says it doesn’t actually want to close the stores, because that could make it impossible to sell them. Company officials are negotiating with its lenders and with landlords to keep the majority of the stores open.
It troubles readers who have so far managed to eschew the electronic experience. They see it as not just another store closing, but the culture of books going away altogether.
"There is nothing more wonderful than reading a book," Dearborn said. "Feeling the pages, smelling the ink, seeing the tatters of the pages through the years as it has been passed down."