Hatch's Bookstores, an independent western regional chain of seven bookstores, has been purchased by David Marlett, a novelist, CPA and former attorney, who has renamed the chain Highland Bookshops. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The new owner put up all the money for the transaction. He began negotiations for the chain last August. Marlett told PW that he has closed one store in Billings, Mont., and will continue with the remaining six stores: four in Colorado, one in Oregon and another in Washington. He said each store is about 3000 square feet and they are located in small rural communities unlikely to attract the large chains. He also noted he'd had "long conversations" with representatives from Ingram over the wholesaler's pending sale to Barnes &Noble before signing the deal; he told PW he was "convinced that the firewall between Barnes &Noble and Ingram was for real."

Of course, he's optimistic about independent bookselling. "A certain kind of rural, niche store will survive," he said. Marlett emphasized, "We're going to expand, but intelligently," and said he would be looking at "small communities, outside the profile" of the large chain stores. The new owner also intends to go online and will launch Highlandbooks.com on the BookSite Network in the next few months. Marlett said the stores "need to be online -- not to compete with Amazon.com, but to retain the customers we have."

Marlett d s not intend to make staff changes. Katrina Agee, daughter of Robert Hatch, the founder of the original chain, will continue with Highland as general manager. The firm;'s headquarters will be in Denver. Agee told PW the chain began as a card and gift shop; it opened its first bookstore in 1965 in Boulder, Colo. By 1993, there were 12 Hatch bookstores. "We had the usual problems competing against large chains," she continued. "Now we're focusing on the small towns where independents can make a difference."