Missing Borders

I promised myself I wouldn’t do it, but I did it anyway. When the Borders in our town closed in April, I made one last visit. It
was depressing. I didn’t intend to buy anything. There wasn’t much to buy. It now stands dark next to the bustling multi-plex theater.

This week, the last Borders in our region closed its doors. Each week, I’ve received increasingly desperate emails from Borders. The
discounts rose as the closing date neared. I didn’t care about the discounts, but I had to pay one last visit. It was like paying your respects to a deceased old friend.

There were rows of empty shelves. It looked like one of those Soviet-era stores that was out of everything. There was still a limited selection of titles in the Fiction section so I headed there. I found two hard-cover books: Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz and Manhood for
Amateurs
by Michael Chabon. I bought both for a total of $10.

Much has been written about the demise of Borders. Some say it was the result of a series of bad business decisions, compounded by
the emergence of Amazon and cheap e-books. It doesn’t really matter to me why Borders failed. I love all bookstores: Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble, and especially those small, quaint independent bookstores. I made it a point to visit the legendary Powell’s bookstore on both of my trips to Portland, Oregon. What a place—nivrana for book lovers.

Bookstore closings hurt all writers, but especially those midlist authors who depend on “impulse buys.” I don’t know how many times I’ve walked into a bookstore intending to buy a particular book and walked out with a different book (or two or three).

Last August, my son and I took the train into the city and visited the huge Borders store at 59th Street near Columbus Circle in Manhattan. There were still plenty of books on the shelves and the place was crowded. Looking around, I felt a surge of optimism. There really are a lot of book lovers in the world. Business was brisk; you’d never have guessed the store was closing in a matter of weeks. I don’t even want to think about  what the place looks like now.

What are your favorite bookstores? What is the future of bookstores?

So many shelves, so few books

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Missing Borders

  1. Hello – found you on Allison’s website! I’m in the UK, where our big chain is Waterstone’s and some of them are great – lovely buildings, knowledgeable staff, good local interest sections. Sadly been a lot of closures here, too. We have two Waterstone’s in our town but I wonder for how much longer. Favourite bookshop of all is a little second-hand place in north-east England (my home turf) called the Keel Row in town of North Shields – three creaky floors and about half a dozen rooms packed to the rafters. But the one that’s on the tourist trail in that part of the world is Barter Books which is housed in an old railway station in the Northumberland town of Alnwick – a vast (and sometimes very chilly!) place. A bit pricey too, but worth a visit.

    • Barbara,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on bookstores. It’s really a great feeling when you discover a bookstore with the creaky floors and narrow shelves and cushy couches. Powell’s in Portland, Oregon is like that. We discovered a little bookstore when visiting our daughter in northeast Ohio. It’s in an old building and the staff is really well read and helpful. I picked up a paperback copy of To Kill A Mockingbird for one dollar and fifty cents. Sadly, I believe a lot of these bookstores will close. It’s hard to sustain a business when competing against big box stores and ebook sellers. Let’s hope bookstores can come up with a different business model–coffee, books and music?

      • In this country some independents do seem to be thriving but they have had to carve out a niche for themselves. They tend to host lots of author events, and have some other speciality, eg, in a town I recently visited that has a chain bookstore practically next door, the independent sells lots of signed copies and is very hot on personal service. Of course the location is important too – sadly, I’m just not sure an independent would get enough support in the town where I live.
        Powell’s sounds wonderful – bet my friends in Portland go there. Coffee, books and music also seems to be a popular combination these days in chain and indies.

  2. Sara Grambusch

    The demise of Border’s was so depressingly tragic. I received all those desperate emails too and watched the discounts go up and up as the shelves got more empty. I went to check out some sales and even more depressingly the prices were still higher than anywhere else. I frequented Border’s mostly in high school, every night till midnight practically. My favorite bookstores were little independents in downtown Sacramento that probably aren’t there anymore either. Hopefully real bookstores will have some sort of a resurgence with a business model appropriate for this decade.

    • Sara,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is tragic. As you said, bookstores need a new business model. Maybe they should be more like coffeehouses, offering in addition to books, coffee, CDs, and the like–a new sort of place where readers can gather and socialize. I have faith there are enough dedicated readers out there, but the availability of inexpensive e-books is changing the whole paradigm.

      I will check out your blog.

      Chris

  3. I too mourn the loss of our local Borders bookstore. It was my favorite store and had a great location. There is nothing more welcoming than rows and rows of books surrounded by the people who love them. For me, e-books will never fill the vacant shell that was once my favorite book shopping destination.

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