Joseph-Beth Booksellers to expand into Northern Kentucky

Regional retailer Joseph-Beth Booksellers will open a fourth store later this year at a former Borders store in Northern Kentucky.

The bookstore at Crestview Hills Town Center will give Joseph-Beth another presence in the Cincinnati area in addition to its store at Rookwood Commons & Pavilion.

The move might sound surprising given that Joseph-Beth emerged from bankruptcy protection earlier this year as a smaller company. The chain had suffered from unmanageable debt as it grew in recent years, but it closed some stores and has emerged with new ownership managing the Cincinnati store, a wellness-themed bookstore in Cleveland and its original store in Lexington.

Joseph-Beth chief executive Mark Wilson said taking over the Borders site was "not a guess."

"We know there's a marketplace in Crestview Hills," he said. "That real estate space ... is 99 percent leased. We've moved into facilities before where it was just 50 to 60 percent leased."

Wilson said Joseph-Beth began looking at Borders stores immediately after the chain announced it would close its several hundred stores nationwide.

"Our strategy is always to stay in contiguous markets," Wilson said. "The Crestview market allows us to really capture a much greater share of the Cincinnati market.

"It's 14 miles from our existing store, so it's far enough away."

Joseph-Beth moved fast in taking over the space. Borders closed Sept. 16, and Joseph-Beth signed the lease Sept. 21, Wilson said.

"We're trying to move very quickly here in putting the signature Joseph-Beth touch on the store," he said. "We don't know the extent to which we'll complete the full gamut ... but we'll have it open for the Christmas season by sometime around Thanksgiving."

The 20,000-square-foot store has about 17,500 square feet of selling space, Wilson said. That's smaller than the 25,000 square feet of selling space in the Cincinnati store and 40,000 square feet in Lexington.

Asked whether Joseph-Beth might be considering other former Borders locations, Wilson said the company was "going to move cautiously."

"This is the one that's right for us at this point," he said. "The size is right, the Crestview Hills market is right, and the customer demographics in the center is similar to the stores like Lexington Green and Rookwood Commons."

And the store itself was right, especially for Borders, he said. Joseph-Beth obtained the retail data from the bankruptcy court and found that the location was No. 52 in volume for Borders nationwide. "This was a very good Borders store," he said.

But he said he already knows what he's looking to improve. Books made up about 85 percent of the store's inventory. Joseph-Beth wants to make that 60 percent to 65 percent, with gifts such as well-being products making up the remainder.

The company has hired Borders' previous general manager and about half of the staff, he said. The store will have 30 to 35 employees.