Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bye Bye Borders

When I was growing up, my family rarely visited stores that sold books. We went to the library semi-weekly and were regular subscribers to the Readers' Digest Condensed Books series (a sort of bulk-rate way of keeping up with the best sellers that EVERYONE in North America read to keep pace with their neighbors in the literature world.)

The only books I can recall purchasing were those offered by the Scholastic Book Service, with offices listed on the back of each book as "New York, Toronto, London, and Sydney." The world-wide reach of SBS always indicated to me that English-speaking kids on the other side of the planet were also reading "Double Trouble for Rupert" and "Ghosts Who Went to School."

Once shopping malls became more common in the 60's, I began visiting bookstores like Waldenbooks and Barnes & Noble. I also started traveling to the powerhouse booksellers of Manhattan, where publishing houses like Simon & Shuster actually owned their own stores! They'd even invite authors I'd heard of, like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, to sit at tables and sign their own works. It was an amazing world.

It wasn't until the final decade of the 20th Century that the Big Box bookstores started appearing in my neighborhood. First, Books-a-Million turned up in a renovated Wal-Mart, hawking oddball hardcovers in bulk. The books all seemed to be slightly dated, or misprinted, or generally unwanted castoffs of the other national chains. I'd visit several times, but never really found anything I'd want to cart home, or actually pay for.

Next, Barnes & Noble began building steroid-enhanced versions of its typical mall store - - the inventory tripled, or quadrupled; the aisles were furnished with oversized couches and reading lamps, and small coffee shops were erected in the corners of the cavernous stores. At first it seemed like a fantastic idea: if people were comfortable, maybe they'd buy more books! After a while, though, it became obvious that this layout was a huge mistake. People would camp out at the B&N store for hours, poring over bestsellers, taking notes while reading technical manuals, or guzzling coffee while pawing through an unpurchased magazine.

Then came Borders. Borders was an offshoot of Waldenbooks, and seemed to be a knockoff of the B&N Big Box model. The Borders configuration, though, was rapidly redesigned to be less "literate" and more gimmick-filled. Books took a back seat at Borders. The center shelves were filled with Harry Potter trivia games, Blu-Ray action movies, Twilight lunch boxes, and assorted magic kits from Klutz Press. Borders expanded the coffee shop, devoting up to 1/3 of the storefront to its Seattle's Best coffee shop. They also provided free Wi-Fi, so that legions of decaf-slurping campers could park themselves at tables for hours of web surfing, gratis.

A bookstore that didn't sell many books, and gave away electricity, air conditioning, computer connections, and chairs for free doesn't last long, and that's why Borders is shuttering its entire chain the Saturday after next.  I took a stroll through the Providence Place Mall Borders today before they sold everything back to the bare walls.

I'm not kidding about selling *everything* - - they've got price tags on the bookshelves, the cash register, the coffee urns, even the bathroom's towel dispensers. When this place is gone, there's going to be nothing in that building except maybe a bunch of bright yellow  "Going Out of Business" signs.

I am most tempted by these blond oak bookcases. They're down to $100/piece, some even as low as $50. If the rain keeps up this week, I may be the only bidder. Still pondering.

This is the kiosk that displays what's still available in the back room. I don't think I'd want an industrial sized freezer for $1500, though.

Not exactly sure how I could repurpose those sign holders (currently priced at a ridiculous $75). Maybe a reminder sign by the front door -- "Did You Feed Flash This Morning?"

They want  $600 for that cash register counter. Don't know how I'd wrestle it into the bed of my pickup truck.

Sic Transit Gloria Jeff. :(

Did they really need to invest in this much paper inventory in a world of GPS phones?

Shelves of all the little things that killed Borders.

If I do buy an Official Borders bookshelf, I want this one. I'll put all my space books on it.

Nothing held back! Make an offer on the carpet! The paper banners! The leftover cash register tape!

Requiem for a Barista station. $600 for a place to sort your Splenda packets.

The support structure for all the nonsense Borders thought people wanted.

What's left of Seattle's Best. That hutch on the left is fascinating, but $1200? No thanks.

The Children's section was tastefully decorated with whimsical space art of flying books and planets. Couldn't find a price on the artwork - - it seems to be glued to the walls.

If not for the impossibility of trying to detach this carpet from the cement floor, I wish I could take it home.

The ladder is $600, the rail the ladder rides on is also $600. Sorry, no. I would like the "Literature" signs, though.

A blur, and it'll be gone next week. The library is back to its 7-day-a-week schedule for September, though. Hooray!


  1. "Sic Transit Gloria Jeff!" Ah HA hahaha haha! I would've bought a hat.

    "Addiction & Recovery." You're a funny guy.

    I have mixed feelings about Borders' fate. They weren't very good for a couple of fine local independent booksellers in town (didn't drive them out of business, but sure helped shrink 'em). On the other hand, I always enjoyed browsing and am sad to lose any temple to literacy and civilization, even a big brassy one. One might wish for a world in which everyone bought enough books to keep them ALL in business forever. And then one would have to wish for a spaceship to take them to that world, because it ain't this one.

  2. Although it was nice to have the convenience of a megabox store like Borders within a half-hour drive from my house, I'm not sure how much it's going to affect my future book purchases. I think about 90% of my books arrive in the mail from Amazon or, and the rest from specialty bookstores I drive more than an hour to visit.

    My favorite bookstore remains the legendary Powell's technical bookstore in Portland, Oregon. There's an almost pornographic quantity of ancient and modern science books stacked to the rafters in that place. AAAA++++ would recommend to friends!