WordsWorth Books, the 23-year-old independent in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., is tightening its belt in the face of declining in-store sales. Approximately 5% of the staff was laid off this summer -- move that followed pay cuts last winter and a loss of staff because of attrition.

According to co-owner Hillel Stavis, the situation is not serious enough to threaten the closing of any of WordsWorth's three Brattle Street stores: its main location, where it stocks 100,000 titles; its children's book and toy outlet, Curious George G s to WordsWorth, which was recently named Best Children's Bookstore by Boston magazine; or WordsWorth Gifts, which sells hand-crafted jewelry, housewares and gifts. Stavis and his wife, Donna Friedman, also own Three Little Monkeys, a children's bookstore in the Chestnut Hill Mall in suburban Boston.

"Business took an initial downturn about a year ago," said Stavis, who attributes the decrease in sales to competition from Amazon.com and the Borders and Barnes & Noble chains that now ring Boston and Cambridge. In response, he added, WordsWorth is "expanding our services. We opened a new reading room at our main store in June, and we will be holding more events." He also notes that the store will change its buying strategy: "We're going to concentrate on midlist and backlist and let the Oprah books go to Amazon and the chains."

To bolster online sales, WordsWorth, which was one of the first Internet book retailers, will expand its Web presence from two to three sites, adding a children's site, about which he would not give details. WordsWorth already operates a children's site, www.curiousg.com, the only Web site devoted to books and products about Curious George, the mischievous monkey created by long-time Cambridge residents Hans and Margret Rey. In addition, WordsWorth has a general bookstore site, wordsworth.com, which this quarter was ranked sixth in bookstore sites around the country by gomez.com, a leading rating service. Wordsworth.com was the only independent to be included in the top 10.

Jeremiah P. Murphy Jr., president of the Coop, the co-operative bookstore of Harvard University, which is operated by the Barnes & Noble college division, said, "business is great," adding, "It's a different situation because we obviously drove the business down with the renovations [which were completed a year and a half ago]. We had a big year in books. Books is the business that is ahead the most of any of our businesses, and that's the nontext books."

Commenting about the state of bookselling in New England in light of the recent Lauriat's and Waterstones closings, Rusty Drugan, executive director of the New England Booksellers Association, told PW: "Most of my stores are reporting that business has been good. I know that individual stores have been down, and Harvard Square has been down. The Coop is clearly a more formidable competitor, and then Amazon certainly continues to grow as a factor. There are stores in the region that are expanding, but they are not in Boston."