Last year it was Woolworths and exactly 12 months to the day, it was Borders turn to fall into the hands of the administrators. Now about 30 Borders staff in Oxford, plus 11 working at the Starbucks cafe in the book chain’s Magdalen Street store, are waiting to hear the fate of their jobs — along with about 1,150 other people employed by Borders nationwide.

Judging by the length of the queue at the Oxford store on Saturday, many customers were tempted onto the premises by Closing Down signs hanging in the windows.

But is the shop really closing down? After all, administrators MCR have issued a statement saying they are seeking to sell the business as a going concern.

They said: “Considerable interest has been expressed either in the business and/or certain stores and this interest is being actively pursued by the administrators.”

Spokesman Luke Derbyshire said: “It is common for administrators to conduct a dual strategy by conducting closing down sales at the same time as trying to find a buyer.”

Kate Davies, team leader of the consumer advice team at Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards, would not comment on that point.

But she was keen to talk about the plight of customers trying to redeem gift vouchers which they had bought in good faith from Borders, or from Books, Etc. at Bicester Village, which is also part of the Borders’ group.

The administrative receivers have agreed to honour the tokens up to half the value of goods being bought.

The alternative for token owners is to join the queue of unsecured creditors and fight their corner.

Ms Davies said: “In the current climate, with so many retailers failing, you need to think hard about what you are doing when you hand over money for tokens.

“You are handing over money without getting anything in return. And if the business fails, administrators have the job of maximising assets, not looking after customers.”

She added: “I don’t remember any gift token issues with Woolworths last year, but there were some with Zavvi, which also went into administration at about the same time.”

Borders’ troubles came after years of fruitless struggling against aggressive discounting by supermarkets and competition from online booksellers such as Amazon. The company owns 45 shops nationwide (36 trading as Borders and nine as Books, Etc).

In the year to February 2008 the group saw pre-tax losses increase to £13.6m, up from £10.3m in 2007 — and MCR said the company had seen sales “fall behind prior year levels”.

This casualty among Oxford’s booksellers will presumably not surprise some insiders. Former Blackwell Retail managing director Richard Barker, writing in trade magazine The Bookseller back in 2000, the year Borders set up shop, calculated there were not enough book-buying customers to go round.

If Borders were to break even, he said, nearby Waterstone’s and Blackwell’s could be pushed from profit into loss.

Back in 2000, when the original American owners of Borders introduced the concept of making their bookshops comfortable places in which to browse during the evenings when other bookshops were closed, general manager Nancy Sloan hoped the store would attract people who would not normally buy books by projecting a more welcoming atmosphere and providing coffee, music and magazines.

Borders is the latest Oxford city centre store to feel the economic pinch following the closure of Zavvi, USC clothing outlet, and the Early Learning Centre. Now the hope is this prime site will not remain empty for long, should the administrators fail to find a buyer.

Richard Venables, of Kidlington-based commercial property agents VSL, said: “I should think landlords will be keen to find a tenant, even a temporary tenant, in order not to be landed with business rates on an empty property.”

In this context, Jesus College has let the former Cornmarket premises of Zavvi, which went into receivership almost a year ago, on a temporary basis.

Meanwhile, many shoppers at Borders are sad to see it in trouble.

Dr Cathy Curtis, of Woodstock Road, north Oxford, who had visited Borders to buy Christmas presents, said: “I think this is a tregedy and I will be very sorry to see it go.”

She added: “Amazon is great, but it cannot replace a shop like Borders where you can browse, feel the books and look at them.”

Jonathan Reynolds, director of Oxford University’s Institute of Retail Management, said: “The fact that Oxford’s Borders is one of many bookshops in Oxford might make it harder for the administrators to sell it off.

“But I think it was the general situation with regard to the book trade that made it vulnerable, namely competition from supermarkets and from online.

“After all, there are a lot of bookshops here because there are a lot of people buying books “Retail in Oxford does, I think, suffer from over-high rents. Then of course parking charges have gone up again. And on top of that, online shoppers are usually people with broadband who are often better off — just the sort of people who might live in Oxford and go to bookshops. So you could argue that Oxford shops are particularly vulnerable to online competition.”

He added: “I would expect a so-called ‘pop-up shop’ to take over the Borders store if it closes. And some of these temporary shops, not all, can look tacky and detract from an area.”

National figures from the British Retail Consortium show retail sales for November are up 4.1 per cent on the same month last year.

However, all eyes are now on the run-up to Christmas and some retailers fear many consumers visit city centres to check out goods and then return to their computers to order them. Online sales are expected to be up 14 per cent this Christmas.