GARDENING Little tools for the job

Calgary AB — BY ROBERT GILES Special to The Globe and Mail Calgary

BY March, we have finished drooling over the seed and plant catalogues. We have scaled back our original dreams, which included buying enough gardening supplies to landscape a football field. It&#39s time to turn our consideration to garden aids that make our labours less onerous and more fruitful.

Ottawa-based Lee Valley Tools has a set of tiny surgical brushes (five cm by eight cm) that have 1,900 unpunishing but diligent nylon bristles. They cost $5 for a dozen, are excellent for degriming soil-stained fingers and nails and also work as vegetable scrubbers.

Gardening Tools

Gardening Tools

Gardening Tools

 

Spiral steel tomato stakes 180 cm long, like those widely used in Europe, make excellent sense. Instead of tying the plants to the stake, weave the growing stems through the spiral, eliminating the possibility of constricting the stems as they thicken. These should last a lifetime. (Lee Valley sells five stakes for $23.) Plastic bulb baskets, 23 cm square by eight cm deep, are the proper thing for tender subjects, like montbretia, tuberose and acidanthera, which need lifting in the fall. The bulbs are spaced in the basket, and the basket is planted at the correct depth. The open-mesh construction permits full root development, and the basket, complete with contents, is dug up at season&#39s end. (Lee Valley charges $7 for three baskets.) A deep sieve is used for sifting lumpy compost, lightly and evenly covering seeds or washing soil-encrusted vegetables. It measures 30 cm by 36 cm by 13 cm deep, with a sturdy poly frame and a 0.6-cm metal mesh screen. It&#39s well worth $6.

Gardening Tools

Gardening Tools

Gardening Tools

Also from Lee Valley, a huge Mayan hammock from Yucatan ($69) will provide snoozing space for two adults, a couple of toddlers and the family spaniel. The hammock is made of well-ventilated cotton and the support ends are nylon cord. It measures four metres by two metres, and needs to be fixed to two strong trees to carry the load.

A transplant spade has a narrow (13 cm) and long (30 cm) deeply dished blade, designed to be used in confined spaces. Its sharp, rounded end makes it easy to split perennial rootballs. It&#39s good for trenching too. (Lee Valley has two kinds: The carbon-steel version costs $19, the stainless-steel one costs $37.50.) Fly-away plastic, fabric or netting coverings can be held down with ropes or pinned to the ground if the covering is reinforced with two-piece grommets hammered together at the edges of the material (package of 10 for $40).

Stokes Seeds of St. Catharines, Ont., sells for $20 a robust, plastic high-walled tidy tray (55 cm by 61 cm by 20 cm), which will keep spills off the kitchen floor when repotting plants or doing other mucky jobs. It comes with a clip-on tool caddy.

A Stokes product called After Bite ($3.50) neutralizes the sting or itch resulting from attacks by pests. The applicator is pen-shaped and fitted with a pocket clip; a dab of the contents beats scratching with grubby nails.

Alberta Nurseries and Seeds sells Grow Dome, a translucent plastic for light diffusion to fit a 26-cm pot or hanging basket, for $8 each. This 32-cm high dome will protect young plants from late cold spells and provide a humid environment. The dome comes as two clip-together parts with top vents to let excess heat escape.

A plant obelisk, also from Alberta Nurseries and Seeds, in Bowden, is designed to sit in containers from 25 cm to 60 cm in diameter. This handsome 180-cm ornament consists of four cedar uprights with a cedar finial on top and two plastic rings to fix the &#34legs&#34 in position. Climbers, such as sweet peas and morning glory, will twine their way upward. A kit costs $39.

Tomato ripening hoods, designed to keep frost from turning just- ripening tomatoes into frozen mush, are being sold by Dominion Seed of Georgetown, Ont., for $20 for three. Each hood consists of a tubular, ventilated piece of polyethylene 1.3 metres long. One end is attached to the top of the tomato stake and two plastic hoops spread out the tube, allowing it to surround the plant and drape to ground level. This retains enough heat to speed ripening, yet it doesn&#39t stew the tomatoes.

Finally, if you live far from a well-stocked garden centre or home- improvement store, a wide range of more bread-and-butter gardening materials is available at Early Farm & Garden of Saskatoon. Of the 56 pages in the catalogue, 22 are devoted to all sorts of garden gear for indoor and outdoor growing, watering, seeding, pruning, digging, as well as fertilizers and pesticides. There are also power tools and a $2,000 chipper-shredder.

Overstuffed bowls lead to a New Year’s hangover

FOR A CRASH course in modern media excess, look no further than the college football bowl season, whose Dec. 19 kickoff inaugurates a mind-boggling 32 games over an elongated three-week span.

That’s right: Ohio State doesn’t play Florida in the Bowl Championship Series finale until Jan. 8, providing the sports punditocracy more time to dissect the existing system for determining who’s No. 1. To accommodate the surplus of games, five are scheduled after everyone’s New Year’s Day hangover evaporates, balancing the handful televised before Christmas.

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Football’s rules are confusing to many, with jargon like “illegal formation” and “intentional grounding”; still, absurdities abound in the bowl picture that should be recognizable to anybody with a TV, who will quickly discern trends that apply not just to football but across a broad cross-section of media:

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Gin up controversy, then debate it endlessly. The BCS has rarely produced a clear-cut championship game, which is a boon to those who profit from prattling on about how screwy the process is. This is of course a recurring stunt in cable news, where made-up crises outfitted with “news alert” tags and exclamation points (“The War on Christmas!”) transform back-of-the-book items into finger-pointing shouting matches.

Expanding choice promotes mediocrity. Remember when college football culminated on New Year’s Day with a climactic orgy of games, rather like a Fourth of July fireworks show? No longer.

Because the bowls start so early and drag on well into January, the glut creates enormous demand for teams to fill them. Colleges thus become “bowl eligible” simply by winning half their games, ensuring a lot of matchups between second-rate teams who once would have stayed home–in the same way that cable nets frequently stock their shelves with second-tier reality concepts, which explains the recycling of Mr. T. Kiss’ Gene Simmons and Danny Bonaduce as celeb-reality stars.

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Every issue has two passionate sides. The talk space thrives on conflict, so every dispute must have a “pro” and “con,” even if it’s about something as inconsequential as whether Rutgers got shafted by the bowl-selection committee or Central Michigan’s defense can contain Middle Tennessee’s offense. Everyone will know the answers soon enough, but until then, dammit, let’s argue and speculate.

Predictions go down the memory hole. As unburdened by conscience as “The McLaughlin Group,” sports analysts regularly spew forth utterly wrongheaded prognostications and live to opine again. If meteorologists, air-traffic controllers or even drunks in a bar displayed a similar success rate, they’d be out on their ear before the first commercial break.

Technology foments confusion. Since incorporating computer rankings into its formula, the BCS has joined touchscreen voting, the Nielsen ratings and online polls as institutions where more data equals less confidence that the system is working properly. High-tech blessings surely make life faster and easier while delivering consumers more options, but they rarely manage to make things fairer, simpler or more logical.

Sell, sell, sell those sponsorships. Nearly every bowl now enjoys an integrated-into-the-name sponsor, giving rise to the MPC Computers Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl, Meineke Bowl, Chick-fil-A Bowl and my personal favorite, the Papa John’s.com Bowl. (Not the actual pizza place, mind you, but its .com.)

Thanks to the beneficence of these sponsors–along with the fact that two-thirds of the games air on ESPN or a cable sibling, channels that derive revenue from subscriber fees–ratings become less significant. At the same time, like “The Apprentice,” the games provide a wholesome environment for corporations to polish their images while gaining TV exposure for middle-aged CEOs and marketing directors–only adorned here in garishly colorful jackets.

Stay on your toes

Anything unpredictable is interesting. And here lies the rub: Sports remain an irresistible staple of the TV diet–no matter how the NCAA, networks and sponsors endeavor to mess them up because we can’t foresee the outcome.

In a media where so much is predigested and spit back at the audience, sporting events possess the aura of possibility that has helped reality TV and “American Idol” flourish–the perfect distraction for increasingly jaded viewers prone to believe less and less in what they see.

Be careful what you wish for. While the current bowl scenario stinks, remember Winston Churchill’s cautionary quote about democracy: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those others that have been tried.”

CRAFTS; Dinnerware, Noted Names and Chuckles

BE forewarned: an exhibition now at the Newark Museum is a reversal of expectations. Although renown painters and sculptors of the last three decades are featured, their work in this show will raise some eyebrows and evoke a good many chuckles.

These are big names of the art world, like Roy Lichtenstein, George Segal, Donald Judd and Cindy Sherman. Their signatures command hundreds of thousands of dollars for their Minimalist, Conceptual or Pop Art. But here these names are inscribed on soup plates, teacups or centerpieces for the dinner table.

Artes Magnus, a New York-based company, commissioned 19 artists to cross the rigid esthetic barriers that normally separate art from artifacts. Some took up the challenge with great elan.

Visual puns and satirical touches turn prosaic dinnerware into conversation pieces that should enliven posh dinner parties. And why not? This is functional art, intended for use, but also for pleasure. Replicas of some of the items, produced in limited editions of 50 to 200 examples, are for sale at the museum shop.

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Dinnerware-products

Dinnerware products

Cindy Sherman gained notice in the 1970’s and early 80’s for her self-portrait photographs, in which she posed in a variety of guises. Here, Ms. Sherman is depicted in an elaborate low-cut dress with visible falsies and a bouffant white wig to take on the personna of Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV of France. Her silk-screen photo images appear as cartouches on a traditional Limoges soup tureen and tea service.

Scrollwork, which encircles the portraits, occasionally assumes the form of tiny gold fish because Madame de Pompadour’s maiden name was Poisson, the French word for fish. The museum shop offers replicas of the 21-piece tea or breakfast service for $2,500.

It must be awkward to eat and drink from the porcelain dishes designed by Armand Fernandez, the French artist known professionally as Arman. The design of his table settings is based on a visual pun: the literal translation demitasse, which means half cup. His cups, saucers, plates, sugar bowls and creamers are sliced in half with a flat side added at the divide so they can still be used.

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Dinnerware products 2

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A sink filled with a pile of this split dinnerware provided the inspiration for Arman’s limited edition of 50 centerpieces for the table. The stacked effect is similar to the sculptural accumulations for which he is known in France.

A deep blue serving platter by another French artist.Cesar, is much subtler. In fact, the surface design is barely visible, showing only a few faint wavy lines. Ah ha, the denouement. After the food is served from this platter, the residue of the sauces reveals an enormous thumbprint.

Cesar is known for his four-to-six-foot-tall sculptures of thumbs that are constructed in plastic. The fingerprint is a logical allusion.

Occasionally the humor turns a bit ghoulish. At first glance, Kiki Smith’s silver finger bowl appears to have a randomly rough inside surface. Then rows of dried fingers, many with missing fingernails, become recognizable.

This artist is known for her prints and sculptures that feature fragmented body parts. Her human symbols often possess a pathologically desiccated look.

George Segal gained renown in the 1960’s for his life-sized plaster sculptures, which he molded around actual people and placed in realistic settings like a movie theater or bus ticket line. The whiteness of the plaster gave those personages a ghostly look. Here, as inspiration for his table centerpiece, the artist adapted a Cezanne still life. The Post-Impressionist style of brushstrokes is echoed in the rough textures of a pitcher and a bottle, while his fruit is naturalistic. All the units are white except an orange orange.

Where are the people who always haunt Mr. Segal’s sculptures? A fragment of a human foot with twisted toes serves as their white shadow.

Remember the Toby mugs shaped like stout gentlemen wearing tricorned hats? A Venezuelan artist, Meyer Vaisman, transformed this comic theme into a portrait of a New York art dealer, Leo Castelli.

The handle, which rests on the dealer’s shoulder, is made up of miniature versions of artwork by his famous gallery artists: Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella. Collectors who don’t posssess the top-dollar original artwork can buy this compilation in the museum gift shop for $1,000.

Mr. Lichtenstein’s centerpiece is a landscape mobile. It employs his characteristic comic-book drawing style to depict a placid rural scene with clouds, sun and a tree. The pond that forms its base can be filled with water and flower petals.

Perhaps a set of four white candlesticks in the shape of Lenin will inspire political conversations at dinner parties. The portrait, which VitalyKomar and Alexander Melamid, the Russian-born artists who sign their works Komar and Melamid, appropriated from an actual statue, depicts the founder of Russian Communism dressed in a three-piece suit with one hand in his pocket.

Realism stops there. Lenin is chopped off at the hip and has a hole in the top of his bald head to hold a candle. What meal could be could be served with these awesome portraits staring back at the guests?

In the 1960’s the Minimalist sculptor Donald Judd composed his series of galvanized iron boxes, which he arranged them formal rows. His plates and cups are flat disks and cylinders with no handles or ornamentation. But the pure simplicity of their geometry must surely disappear when the plates are heaped with spaghetti or even caviar.

Not all the projects are humorous. A Conceptual artist, Joseph Kosuth, used words and dictionary definitions to give his art meaning in the 1960’s. But his dinner service of six place settings consists of reproductions of the standard Limoges porcelains that were produced between 1773 to 1960. He removed the decorative patterns, however, and added their dates of origin. The numbers suggest store inventory markings that are intended to be removed before usage.

The show runs through Dec. 31. The Newark Museum is at 49 Washington Street. Hours are noon to 5 P.M. Wednesday through Sunday, and admission is free.

CAPTION(S):

Photos: A show of dinnerware at the Newark Museum includes this porcelain tureen by Cindy Sherman, decorated with a silk-screen photo of her as Madame de Pompadour. (Photographs from Artes Magnus); Also in the museum show are ceramic candlesticks in the shape of Lenin, by Komar and Melamid; “Landscape Mobile,” left, a table centerpiece in porcelain and cast resin by Roy Lichtenstein, and “As in the Sink,” a porcelain centerpiece composed of split dinnerware, created by Arman. (Richard Madigan)

BIGGER IN TEXAS – BOOMER: NO SURPRISE RANGERS WERE JUICERS

So who hasn’t used the juice during the steroid era?

David Wells isn’t suspicious of every player from the mid-1990s to present day, but the former pitcher says there is only one name among active players that would stun him if ever it appeared in conjunction with illegal performance enhancers.

“If Derek Jeter tried it I’d be [shocked], and the rest of the field is on its own,” Wells told The Post yesterday as news was spreading Alex Rodriguez had admitted to juicing from 2001-03 with the Rangers.

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“Baseball would fold if Derek Jeter came out and said he did steroids. He’s just such a good individual. He’s a model citizen of Major League Baseball and probably a good role model for the world. That’s the one guy it would surprise the hell out of me if he did it.” The revelation that Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003 did not surprise Wells. The lefty said he had his suspicions about several members of the Rangers, based on what he saw beginning in the 1990s.

“You look at Pudge Rodriguez . . . you look at all these guys who were on that Texas team,” Wells said. “Then you see how skinny those guys were and then all of a sudden the next two years they’re freaking monsters. That’s when I raised my suspicion, when those guys were together.”

Jose Canseco, a Ranger from 1992-1994, said in his book that he introduced Ivan Rodriguez to steroids, though he was not implicated in the Mitchell Report or any other investigation.

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Canseco said he also introduced Juan Gonzalez, a Ranger from 1989-1999, to steroids. The two-time MVP was stopped at the Canadian border in 2001 and found with steroids and syringes, though he said they belonged to his personal trainer.

While neither Pudge nor Gonzelez were in the Mitchell Report, it did include several players with Texas ties, including Rafael Palmeiro.

Kevin Brown (a Ranger from 19861994), Ken Caminiti (2001), Randy Velarde (2001), John Rocker (2002), Mike Stanton (1996), Gregg Zaun (1999) are also in the Mitchell Report.

Wells released a controversial book in 2003 that claimed as many as 40 percent of MLB players at the time were using steroids.

Wells later amended the comment – he claims he was misrepresented in his own book – saying the number was probably closer to 15 percent.

But based on what has transpired the last few years, with BALCO and the release of the Mitchell Report, Wells, who last pitched in 2007, laughs at his low estimate.

“I look like an idiot there, I should have said 90 [percent],” Wells said. “Everybody should have said 90. If you’re writing a book, say 90 percent.

“You hear people saying, ‘I’m so sick of steroids,’ but you know what, it needs to be addressed, so I’m not sick and tired of it. You have to clean up the game.”

From the Yankees’ perspective, Rodriguez’s situation obscures the release of Joe Torre’s controversial new book, in which Wells is a target. Wells said he recently obtained a copy of the book.

“[Torre] is an idiot for doing it,” Wells said. “Now you look at it, and what are these Dodger players going to do? If I were them, I’d tell Torre just to stay the hell out of the clubhouse and just stay in your office.”

The chef suggests: Art Smith on kitchen gear

Art, who prepares a Chef Revival denim chefs jacket to the usual starchy whites, uses his Apple 12-inch Power Book [G.sub.4] to store some recipes, surf the Web for others, and buy food and gadgets online. A Rosenthal china bowl adds elegance to the mix, while All-Clad and T-Fal pots, which conduct heat in a flash, float above (from a Crate & Barrel rack).

Nigella Lawson’s gorgeous nesting bowls are egg-shaped for reasons other than beauty: You can cradle them comfortably, and the narrow end acts as a spout. The Cuisipro flat whisk is great for heating eggs when you don’t want them too airy.

This sturdy 6 1/2-pound-capacity scale looks like sculpture on a counter. One side of its face shows the weight, the other tells time.

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The chef suggests: Art Smith on kitchen gear

Guzzini glass storage jars have wide mouths for easy access to their contains and bright plastic lids that seal with a vengeance (and open with little effort).

FreshDate containers with airtight tops.

To serve and protect: Bee House ceramic bowl and JenaerGlas containers with airtight tops.

So you won’t lose track of that half-eaten grapefruit, Tupperware’s Forget Me Not will hang it in plain sight from your fridge shelf.  Michael Graves’s plastic squeeze-top canister hits its Target every time: high design, low price.  Blomus stainless steel canisters are perfect for stashing things that hate light. The Letra Tag electronic label maker, which prints fonts in four sizes, can organize your kitchen like a library

The chef suggests: Art Smith on kitchen gear

The chef suggests: Art Smith on kitchen gear

The chef suggests: Art Smith on kitchen gear 2

Tupperware’s new containers nest for compact storage and are ideal for single servings.

Williams-Sonoma’s tomato red tomato press zips through the tedious job of separating pulp from seeds and skin. It looks like an explosive sunset atop the Gripper cutting board and alongside Crate & Barrel nesting bowls.

The L’Equip blender is an object of beauty and a marvel of engineering. The Deni slicer allows you to keep hunks of cold cuts and cheese fresh longer. Adding from to function, Michael Graves designed George Foreman’s grill for Target. Below: Nigella Lawson’s robin’s-egg-blue measuring cup is the prettiest we’ve seen. Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker has nine settings for different kinds of rice. The kitchen Aid toaster fits four slices, and bagels. Cuisinart’s Quick Prep hand blender makes pureeing sauces and soups simpler and neater.

Want to stick your hand in boiling water? Fine, just wear an iSiOrka mitt. The silicone can cope with 500 degrees. SiliconeZone’s baking molds lessen the chances of burned muffins and fingers. Tupperware’s silicone baking pan is cool–temperature-wise and looks-wise. Lamson&Goodnow’sHotSpot is both trivet and potholder.

Top shelf: SilverStone’s red stockpot has a close-fitting stainless steel lid. The Blue Ginger wok is priced for a Target audience. Bialetti’s nonstick grill pan (hanging) and pasta pot (foreground) have heat-resistant handles (the grill’s fold in for storage). Staub’s enameled cast-iron cookware (including these yellow and blue Dutch ovens) retains heat like a dream. The curved bottom of this red le Creuset pot helps Distribute heat evenly–great for muscles, soups.

. To squeeze just a few oranges, there’s no better gadget than this hinged number from Sur la Table. For bigger squeezes, the penguinlikeL’Equip Juicer is easy to use and clean.

  1. KitchenAid’s “majestic yellow” seven-speed mixer is light and compact. The ideal batter bowl–like this ribbed stoneware from Chef’s Catalog–has a handle and a spout. The Jenn-Air mixer stands alone in its furistics beauty and function. Cuisipro’s ergonomic silicone spatula more than scrapes by.

Cookware for any budget: All-Clad’s stainless-and-aluminum pots and pans are the gold standard; Jamie Oliver’s new T-Fal line, lighter on the budget, stacks up very well.

Peugot’s stainless steel and wood pepper mill is sleek and shapely. Vic Firth’s colorful and sexy “Mario” pepper mills are favorites of top New York chef Mario Batali. Vibrant mortars and Pestles from OrangeX are cast-iron with rubber Handles. For details see Shop Guide..

ART’S CHOICES FOOD WEB SITES

www.mellissas.com Excellent source for fresh fruits and vegetables, including many rare ones. purcellmountainfarms. com Organic produce and spices. oldtimecandy.com Some of the best original chocolate snacks and desserts around. The Colts Bolts (with peanut Butter and almonds) are beyond compare. beanbag.net Heirloom and exotic dry beans directly from farmers. chefshop.com Great source for fresh and packaged food, including June Taylor’s amazing jams. awesomegourmet.com Unique food from small producers and farmers.

Borders: New stores, efficiencies help improve financial picture; Chain saw fewer shoppers, but those who came spent more

Borders Group Inc. said Friday that sales from new stores and efforts to manage the company more efficiently allowed the company to increase its net income in the fourth quarter and for the year.

The new stores and management effort helped overcome a decline in sales in existing Borders and Waldenbooks stores.

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“Traffic was down; less people come into our stores,” Borders CEO Greg Josefowicz said. “However, those who did come to us generally spent more time and more money.”

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Sales at Borders stores open at least a year declined 1.2 percent from the previous year, while sales at Waldenbooks stores open at least a year declined 3.2 percent. Same-store sales are considered the best way to measure a retailer’s health.

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For the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, Borders reported net income of $117 million or $1.43 a share on revenue of $3.5 billion. In 2002, Borders reported income of $109.3 million or $1.32 on revenue of $3.4 billion. Earnings per share rose a disproportionate amount because the company repurchased $75 million worth of common stock last year.

For the fourth quarter, Borders reported net income of $111.5 million or $1.39 a share on $759.1 million in sales. That compares with income of $111.7 million or $1.35 on $741.8 million in sales for the same period the year before.

Borders’ stock price has declined steadily since November, from $19.79 a share to $13.85 at the market close Friday.

That drop is due to depressed overall retail sales, a decline in book sales and an announcement that Borders made in February warning investors that same-store sales declined for the year, said Dereck Leckow, a research analyst for Barrington Research Associates Inc.

Leckow views Borders’ problems as short-term economic issues that will be resolved in time.

“I think what we are going to find in the long run is that they are putting the right infrastructure in place to ensure the long-term growth for investors,” Leckow said.

Last year the company opened 41 Borders stores in the United States and eight overseas. Borders has a similar development schedule this year with plans to open 35-40 Borders stores in the United States and eight overseas.

Borders said it was disappointed with the performance of its international division last year. Net income from international stores fell from $3.9 million to $3.5 million.

The company has made some management changes and has added staff to its overseas division, Josefowicz said. Borders also has adjusted its strategic plan for the division. It now expects slower sales growth and is going to try to improve gross margins and reduce costs.

Borders’ international division is only a few years old and never has made money because store openings and other startup costs have hurt profits. This year, however, Josefowicz said, the company hopes to at least break even overseas.

In the United States, Borders has slimmed the size of its Borders stores from an average of 26,000 square feet to 22,000 square feet. In smaller markets, Borders stores are about 18,000 square feet. In the smaller stores, Borders devotes less space to music, Josefowicz said.

Borders also is reducing the size of its music department in other stores, Josefowicz said. That’s because music sales for all retailers declined about 10 percent last year and because Borders wants to devote more space to DVDs.