After months of speculation by industry insiders, Bandicoot Corp., the parent company of the 28-year-old general books retailer WordsWorth Books and the children's specialty store Curious George Goes to WordsWorth in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Boston.

Once one of the 10 largest bookstores in the country, a pioneer of computerized inventory systems and one of the first to enter the world of Web retailing, WordsWorth began to falter five years ago. At the time, it initiated the first of a series of layoffs, including some earlier this week in preparation for the bankruptcy filing. In other cost-cutting measures in recent years, Bandicoot owners Hillel Stavis and his wife, Donna, closed a short-lived children's bookstore in the Chestnut Hill mall and a gift store in Harvard Square.

According to court documents, Bandicoot has $1.5 million in debts and $1 million in inventory and assets. The three largest creditors are Koen Book Distributors, Baker & Taylor and Random House. Both WordsWorth and the Curious George store will remain open through the bankruptcy, although the Boston Globe reports that staff has dwindled from a high of 110 employees to 20.

Bandicoot attorney Thomas Bean, a partner in the litigation department of Nutter, McClennan & Fish, cited a combination of factors for the company's financial problems, including competition from and big-box retailers and dwindling foot traffic in Harvard Square. "Historically, the children's store has been profitable, where WordsWorth has not," he told PW. "The plan is to seek an investor/buyer for WordsWorth and for the owners to lend money to the corporation. We want to get through the holidays." Bean notes that there has already been an outpouring of support from customers for the Harvard Square institution.