The Towson area is losing another book store. A decade after Borders moved out of Towson Commons and Greetings & Readings left Loch Raven Plaza, Ukazoo Books disclosed this week it is leaving the Dulaney Valley Shopping Center and moving to a smaller space in Parkville.
Ukazoo’s owners posted a notice on Facebook announcing that a moving sale is now underway at the current store, 730 Dulaney Valley Road, across from Towson Town Center.
“Ukazoo has lost our lease at our current location,” the notice states. “The good news is that we have found a new location and will open in Parkville soon as we can (late December or early January.) This means that starting today we need to have a moving sale.”
Founded in 2007, Ukazoo is an independent, locally owned store carrying a mix of new and used books, plus toys, artwork and other “non book merchandise.” It has 100,000 volumes in 10,900 square feet of space.
The store is known for its knowledgeable staff, its book buy-back program, free coffee and whimsical displays, including a simulated fireplace mantel made out of books.
The managers did not say online exactly when the final day in Towson would be or where the new store will be. In response to questions on Facebook, a representative said Ukazoo will take possession of the new store in early December and mostly likely open in “late December or January.”
The store representative described the new location as being on “Harford Road just inside the Beltway” and “between the Beltway and Putty Hill Rd.” He said the store didn’t want to be specific yet, out of respect to the tenant that is there now. “We are sitting on the address for a few days until the other party can tell their employees. It is near the Beltway and Harford Road,” he said.
Reached at the store today, co-owner and general manager Edward Whitfill said Dec. 15 is the last possible day for Ukazoo to be in Towson.
Whitfill said the store has been on a month-to-month lease with its landlord, Taubman Brothers, for its current space. He said Taubman has found a retailer willing to sign a longer lease for the space, a bicycle and running shoe store, and that set the move in motion.
Whitfill said he co-owns Ukazoo with three others, that he serves as the store’s general manager and he answered the Facebook questions about the move to Parkville. He said the store’s inventory is about 95 percent used books and five percent new books, but the new books account for about 20 percent of the sales receipts.
Whitfill said he and his partners have faced strong competition in recent years from online booksellers, who charge as little as one cent for a used book. “My biggest competition is Amazon,” he said.
Given current sales trends, he said he and his partners did not feel comfortable signing a long-term lease for the current 10,900-square-foot space. He said the new location will have about 5,000 square feet of space, and the owners hope to configure it to contain 70,000 to 80,000 volumes.
Whitfill said he is hopeful that a smaller store and lower rent will provide a more workable business model for Ukazoo as it tries to withstand competition from online booksellers. He noted that even Barnes & Noble is building smaller stores these days, while Amazon is opening brick-and-mortar stores.
“We did not have the viability to sign another three- to five-year lease” for 10,000 square feet, he explained. “We simply aren’t generating enough money to sustain a 10,000 square foot lease.”
“We need to come up with a business model that will allow us to survive,” he added.
Ukazoo grew to have four locations at one point. Besides Towson, there were stores in metropolitan Detroit, Toledo, Ohio, and Philadelphia. Whitfill said the current owners have been in place since 2013 and the other stores have either closed or are no longer affiliated with the business in Maryland.
In deciding where to move, the owners wanted to stay within five miles of the current location and are hopeful that a high percentage of their customers will move with them.
He said Parkville seems to be a good location because many of Ukazoo’s customers live east of Towson, and Parkville is also accessible to neighborhoods in northern Baltimore City, such as Lauraville and Hamilton. Plus, he said, the new store will be more visible from the street than the Towson location, which is set back from Dulaney Valley Road and has limited parking.
“I think Parkville is a very good fit for us,” he said.
Whitfill said Ukazoo has 12 employees and it is too soon after the announcement to say how many will move to the new location. He urged people to support local businesses whenever possible.
“We need more local businesses and less Applebee’s,” he said.
Many customers said online that they were sorry to hear that Ukazoo is leaving Towson. But others said they’re pleased it is moving to Parkville.
“This will be very good for Parkville,” Kathy Corson Haduch said on Facebook. “”Towson can hold their own, that’s for sure.”
“Those of us a little farther south in Hamilton will be thrilled you’ll be so close,” said Stacey Marriott Guy.
Whitfill said Ukazoo’s customers have been very supportive. “It’s a great customer base,” he said. “We just need to fine-tune the business side of it so we can make money.”
Ed Gunts writes about design and real estate for Baltimore Fishbowl. His Urban Landscape column runs on Mondays.
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