SALEM — The news was expected, but it still hurt.
Gilbert Pili, the owner of Cornerstone Books, sent an e-mail to customers and friends yesterday morning under the heading "Farewell, Salem."
Pili said he has not been able to find a buyer for the independent bookstore he opened five years ago and announced plans to close Nov. 1.
"As of today," he wrote, "no new ownership has been forthcoming; any interested parties should contact the store as soon as possible.
"For me, the time has come to say goodbye. ... It's been a wonderful ride."
In a recent interview, Pili acknowledged the challenges faced by independent bookstores and said he decided to sell his store for personal reasons. The Salem News was not able to reach him yesterday.
Over the past five years, Cornerstone Books developed a devoted following as host of the city's literary festival and numerous book signings, readings, club meetings and other events.
Best-selling author Brunonia Barry launched "The Lace Reader" at the store. Other prominent authors were regulars.
"It's very sad that we're losing Cornerstone Books because they are a wonderful community center," said Katherine Howe, a Marblehead novelist who did a book signing there for her best-seller "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane."
"Independent bookstores are incredibly important for building a community amongst readers, and it makes me doubly sad given that Salem is Nathaniel Hawthorne's hometown," Howe said.
The news also hit hard in the city's downtown retail community.
"I would be heartbroken to see them go," said Diane Manahan, the owner of Pamplemousse, a retail store just around the corner from Cornerstone. "It's ... something we need in Salem."
Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, said he still holds out hope that new owners will be found.
"It's going to be disappointing if it doesn't sell," he said. "I'm still hoping they find somebody willing to take it over one way or another, be it as a full bookstore or as a store that does more than just books."
Oosthoek agreed with Pili's own assessment made weeks ago when he announced the store was for sale — that Cornerstone needs an owner on-site. Pili worked in Boston's financial industry.
"One thing it shows is you can't be an absentee owner," Oosthoek said. "Gil had a full-time job while running the bookstore, and that's just difficult. I think he had a really good crowd of people working for him, but it's still tough."
The chamber director said he is trying to find a new owner and does not see this as a sign that an independent, general bookstore can't survive in a small downtown. The city, after all, hosts Derby Square Bookstore, a family shop that has been here for decades, a college bookstore and stores that sell occult books.
"Do I think a bookstore can make money in Salem?" he said. "Sure I do."
In his e-mail, Pili thanked his regular customers and urged them to keep supporting stores like Cornerstone.
"It's easy in this day of malls, big-box retailers and the Internet to forget the stores that make your hometown special," he wrote, "so please continue to support your local businesses."