OCEAN CITY - Boardwalk shoppers kept walking into the Atlantic Books store Thursday evening, lured by a sign that promised 25 percent off everything within. Most walked out with packages.

If business had been like this for the past year or two, the store probably would not be going out of business, saleswoman Kathy Hoffman said as she rang up purchases for customer after customer.

"Although they're all here for the sale," Hoffman said.

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Atlantic Books, based in Conshohocken, Pa., is closing its stores in beach resorts because they are no longer profitable, co-owner Mark Simon, of Lower Merion, Pa., said Thursday. Two stores on the Ocean City Boardwalk, shops in Stone Harbor, Beach Haven, Cape May, and some at Delaware beaches, will close permanently this fall.

A store in the Ocean Heights Shopping Center in Somers Point closed earlier this summer.

"They're no longer profitable, and have not been for the last year or so," Simon said. With the recent downturn in sales of printed books, "it becomes more and more difficult to afford the rent" for shops on the boardwalks of beach resort towns, he said.

The company has been in business for more 36 years, with stores in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The move will leave only one Atlantic Books store in South Jersey, at Washington Avenue and Doc Cramer Boulevard in the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township.

Stores in Dover, Del., Rehoboth Beach, Del., and at the Montgomery Mall in suburban Philadelphia also will remain open, Simon said.

Bookstores run on a smaller profit margin than many other businesses by the sea, and the sales season is short, Simon said. In addition, when the stores reopen in the spring, they have to return unsold inventory and restock the shelves with new publications.

"Readers want what's new," Simon said. "They want the stuff they're reading about in The New York Times, what they're reading in their book clubs, and what their friends are reading."

The shore stores are having a clearance sale, and will be open through September and into October, "as long as we have some inventory to sell," Simon said. "We're not ordering anything new."

Both customers and employees at the store at 1208 Boardwalk in Ocean City said they are sorry to see the store go.

"It's so sad," said Ralph Hansen, of Newark, Del., as he and his wife, Karen, walked out of the store with several mystery books and some stickers for his guitar. "This place sells a lot of good stuff."

"I think it's awful," said Marguerite Fleming, of Muncy, Pa., as she paid for her purchases. "I hope the whole country doesn't think they can't buy books anymore. We need books. It's education."

The closing of Atlantic Books leaves Ocean City with one bookstore, Sun Rose Words and Music on Asbury Avenue. But some visitors said they would not walk the few blocks from the Boardwalk to buy their books there. Others said they would.

"We're bummed. We're disappointed," said employee Michael Filippone, of Mays Landing.

There are about six employees left in the store after two quit to return to college, said Filippone, who worked the store this summer. If he wasn't moving out of the area, he would want to work there again next summer, he said.

Hoffman, who is finishing her second summer at Atlantic Books, said she would open her own store if she could swing the finances.

"There's got to be a bookstore on the Boardwalk," Hoffman said.

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