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WordsWorth Books' final chapter is Saturday

WordsWorth Books, a fixture in Harvard Square for nearly three decades, will be closing its doors Saturday after its owners failed to find an investor to help them refinance their bankrupt company.

The independent bookseller, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 9, faced intense competition from online book retailers like Amazon.com and giant bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble, which manages store operations for the Harvard Coop across the street from WordsWorth, said Donna Friedman, one of WordsWorth's owners.

WordsWorth put a sign in its 30 Brattle St. window late last week saying it would be selling off its inventory. Yesterday the store's books were selling at a 50 percent discount.

Friedman said she and her husband, Hillel Stavis, who founded WordsWorth in 1975, will continue to own and operate the Curious George Goes To WordsWorth children's books and toy store at nearby 1 JFK St., which has remained profitable. "We've decided that we're going to put all of our efforts into Curious George," she said.

In a reorganization plan approved by a bankruptcy court judge this month, Bandicoot Corp., the holding company for both businesses, will focus exclusively on children's books and toys. The surviving store's name will be changed to Curious George and friends.

Stavis said he and Friedman will seek an outside investor to help them expand Curious George in a market niche where they face less competition from Internet retailers. He said they hope Bandicoot can emerge from bankruptcy court protection by Jan. 1. The owner of WordsWorth's building, Hadley Realty Trust, will be seeking a new retail tenant for the property.

"That space will lease out," said Harvard Square commercial realtor John P. DiGiovanni, president of the Harvard Square Business Association. "I'm very optimistic that there will be a careful analysis of what goes in there, because that's such a marquee location."

Cambridge Mayor Michael A. Sullivan said he will work with the WordsWorth owners and other business leaders on a plan that would enable independent retailers to remain as part of the mix in a commercial hub that has become increasingly expensive.

WordsWorth cultivated a clientele of college students and young professionals, sponsoring a reading series that has drawn authors such as Salman Rushdie and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But Stavis said it became increasingly tough for WordsWorth to compete with Amazon.

"We live in one of the most wired communities in the world, so people are going to buy books on the Web," he said. "We tried to find an angel investor, but I guess they were all out to lunch."

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com.

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