Ukazoo Books will close permanently by the end of December, its owner announced, after 14 years in business. The bookstore will begin its closing sale Tuesday. Image via Google Streetview.

One week after Starbucks temporarily closed its branch at Loch Raven Boulevard and Joppa Road, another well-known business is closing near the same intersection.

Ukazoo Books announced that it’s closing its store at 8641 Loch Raven Blvd., one block south of the Loch Raven Starbucks branch.

“After 14 years and five months, Ukazoo is closing,” says a message on the store’s website. “We no longer are making enough to stay in business.“

“It makes my heart heavy, and yet it seems to be the only course of action right now,” the store’s owner, Edward Whitfill, said in a posting on Facebook.

Ukazoo moved to Loch Raven Boulevard in 2017, after Whitfill decided to downsize from its previous store at 730 Dulaney Valley Road in Towson. Founded in 2007, billing itself as ‘Towson’s Indie bookstore,’ it has been a popular source of both new and used books, and a purchaser of used books. At one point it had four locations and 100,000 titles in stock. Currently it has about 24,000 titles.

Whitfill said he couldn’t disclose a final day of business yet because that will depend on what happens with a “store closing sale” that begins tomorrow. Under the sale, new books will sell for 10 percent off the lowest marked price; used books will sell for 30 percent off; and toys, mugs and other non-book merchandise will sell for 25 percent off.

Additional discounts “will be progressive and will get larger over the next 3 to 5 weeks,” according to the company’s website, and bookshelves “will go on sale around December 1 (as books sell off of them).”

The store will close when all the inventory is gone but definitely by the end of December, Whitfill said.

“I have product on the shelf that needs to sell, but I’ll definitely be closed before the new year,” he said. “I don’t have an end date yet. If people come in and buy a bunch of stuff and I sell out, I’ll stop as soon as that happens, but I’m not paying rent going into January…My guess is that it will take me three to five weeks to do a closing sale.”

Whitfill attributed the closing to a “straight decline of sales” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When COVID hit,” he said, “we were closed for nine weeks and our sales have never bounced back to pre-COVID levels, which has just left us running at a loss.”

He said he remained open as long as he could, hoping that the pandemic would end and customers would return.

“I stayed in business much longer than I should have, hoping it would bounce back, and now I’m just accumulating debt,” he said. “I hope to sell enough to get back out of the debt I’ve accumulated. That’s what I’m hoping.”

Did the closing of Starbucks or fear of crime in the area have anything to do with it?

“I can’t tell you if people didn’t come back after COVID because crime got worse or whether it was just because Amazon ran such a discount on Amazon Prime to some customers or they got comfortable just staying home,” he said. “I don’t know. But not enough customers came back after COVID that it made it worthwhile.”

Whitfill said he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.

“I have absolutely no clue,” he said. “I have been in the book store business for the better part of 28 years or so…I worked for probably six different book stores before coming to Ukazoo and then buying Ukazoo, so I’ve been literally doing this since college.”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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