Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Borders: An Epilogue

By Meghan B

If you haven't heard already, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. On Monday, Borders Books announced it would be liquidating 399 stores and laying off 11,000 employees. Borders Books is officially dead.

God, that feels like a punch to the gut, doesn't it? It's hard to imagine a world without Borders but starting as soon as Friday, that will become the sad reality. Following in the footsteps of stores like Tower Records, it's another behemoth crushed by its own inability to change, adapt and thrive in the post-Amazon world we live in. This is a sad week for book lovers everywhere. 

I will admit, this hits me especially hard. I worked for Borders for five and a half years and was an assistant manager there for much of it. I never thought of my store as just another chain. It was my bookstore. I knew every book in that place, I knew every regular who came in. I was devastated when we were closed in 2009, the first round of store closings that signaled the beginning of the end.

Sadly, even when I worked for the company, we knew we were doomed. Every directive from corporate was just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We held out hope but that never panned out. Borders suffered from a series of bad management choices, the inability to embrace the internet and other preventable misfortunes. Borders always seemed like it was playing catch-up. It never wanted to be a trend setter and sat back and let Barnes and Noble and Amazon take the lead. In fact, up until a few short years ago, Borders outsourced the running of its website to Amazon. Why? Well, Borders never thought buying books over the internet would pan out.

Gallows humor from Borders employees
When Borders lost momentum, they decided to move away from their core of being a solid bookstore and focus on gimmicks and knick-knacks. To even get to the bookshelves, you'd have to traverse tables full of notebooks and greeting cards, glittery bouncy balls and stuffed animals, hand soap and candles. By moving away from actually selling books, Borders shot themselves in the foot. That wound proved fatal.

Despite all these massive faults, I loved Borders and continued to patronize them even after my store closed. I always found the staff helpful, knowledgeable and funny. Over the years I found their stock dwindled but always found a book I could love. They emailed coupons like they knew it was crack to any book lover, and I was there every weekend to pick a few items up. With Borders gone, it just leaves Amazon and Barnes & Noble and neither have the same feel Borders did. I am not without my guilt; I order from Amazon frequently. In this day and age, who doesn't?

The closure of Borders is nothing but bad. Soon communities will be without a single bookstore they can go to. Publishers will have their avenues for distribution and revenues sliced in half. With less places to sell books, you can bet publishers are really going to start to hurt.

At the end of the day, I'm not sure who to really pin the blame on. Of course, the revolving door of bad management has the lion's share of guilt. What else was that final nail in the Borders coffin? The rise of e-readers? The deep discounts and convenience of Amazon? People reading less? Those dang kids who sat in the manga section for hours and never bought anything? Whatever the case, Borders is a causality of this strange new world we live in and I, for one, will mourn it's passing. 

When the liquidations start, I will go to my local store and talk to the booksellers who know me by name and wish them well. I will try to not wince at the shambles the store is in. I will pick up a few new books and I will wonder what comes next. Beyond that, I suppose I will go to Barnes & Noble, maybe get a member card. I will miss the cheerful and somewhat desperate red coupons in my email every week. I will get my usual box of books from Amazon. I will continue to get my books and all the while I'll sigh and know it isn't the same.

Thanks for everything, Borders.
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  1. Thank you, Meghan, for this heartfelt tribute to Borders. I've been a bookseller there for nearly 3 years and our store is heartbroken that we are closing. Sure, like you said, we've known it was coming but getting the news still stung horribly. It's been such a wonderful community place, I can't imagine the hole it's going to leave. There is nothing like the excitement of getting a customer hooked on a new book or sharing a mutual love of an author. Our employees are like a family and it's been the best job I've had. So very sad to see the end of this era. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

  2. Kind of ironic though, since Borders itself put hundreds of mom-and-pop bookstores out of business. I guess most of them would have been crushed sooner or later so it might as well have been sooner.