"An empty man is full of himself." -- Edward Abbey

Monday, July 25, 2011

Borders -- R.I.P.

     The bookstore chain Borders is filing for bankruptcy and going out of business. Apparently, Bookspan, the private company that owns Book of the Month Club, Literary Guild an other book clubs, offered to buy the faltering chain, but the offer was so low that the owners of Borders decided they'd be better off just closing up shop and selling off their inventory.

     I don't know about you, but whenever I had a little time to kill, I used to like to mosey on over to Borders and spend a half hour or 45 minutes browsing through their racks of books, checking out the bestsellers, flipping through the magazine stand. Sometimes I'd even buy a paperback, then get a cookie and cup of something at the snack bar, and sit down and read for a while.

     This is a great activity for retired people with some time on their hands, or for anyone who's not rushing through life. But I guess Borders has seen its day come and go.

My local Borders, in its last days

     I remember back in the 1970s, people were apoplectic because the big chain stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble were spreading out to cities and small towns across America and putting local independent bookstores out of business. I liked the local bookstores. They had character. The proprietor was often some crusty older woman who wasn't bashful about recommending the latest novel or political screed. She'd welcome you in the door with a smile, never try to rush you, and she'd be happy if you walked out the door with a $2.99 paperback or even a 50-cent used book. These storeowners liked to read, they identified with the authors, and they loved what they sold.

     I remember when my sister lived in Washington, DC. There was an old bookstore around the corner from where she lived, and she sometimes fantasized about quitting her high-stress but pointless job with the Federal government and buying the bookstore, envisioning herself sitting behind the counter, reading her favorite books, and making some money.

     Fortunately, she never took the leap. That bookstore closed a couple of years later -- put out of business by the new chain store down the street that was clean and well-organized and had a coffee bar, and brought in some famous authors to sign books.

     But, honestly, I liked the big bookstores, maybe even more than the independents. They never offered any used books, but you could still spend as long as you wanted roaming through the racks checking out this book and that. The new chains offered a bigger selection of books, as well as tapes and then CDs and DVDs. They also got the idea to put a coffee bar into the bookstores, and that added to the experience -- if you had the time.

     But then along came Walmart and BJs and Costco, which would sell bestsellers at 50 percent off the list price. Then came amazon.com, again offering discounts that the big chains either couldn't, or wouldn't, match. So I found myself, at least sometimes, roaming through Borders and noting a few books that looked interesting, then going home and ordering them from amazon -- and saving $20 or $30.

     Then, of course, along came the kindle and the nook, which made bookstores even more irrelevant. I got a kindle for my birthday two years ago and have bought a number of books electronically. It's so easy. You get whatever book you want, right away. It's relatively inexpensive. And you don't have to carry around a thick heavy tome when you're reading on the train or at the beach. Perfect for Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, for example, or the Lee Child mysteries I like to read.

     Young people probably don't even know what a bookstore is. They don't read many books. They spend their time playing video games, texting their friends, or maybe watching or reading short snipets from youtube. And young people who do read -- they think the kindle is for old people. They have an iPad or Android.

     Most young people don't appreciate the joy of browsing through a bookstore -- and they certainly don't have the time. But I still like to wander up and down the aisles, checking out the latest political books (I don't read the books, but I like to read the jacket copy, just to see what's going on). I like to peruse the history books that are often featured on a table, or the social & psychology books that give me an insight into the current zeitgeist of the country.

     Honestly, I feel a little guilty that I never spent as much money at Borders as I probably should have, considering how much time I spent there. It would have helped if they'd only offered a little better prices. But I will miss Borders. Now I will drive over to the nearest Barnes & Noble. The store's a little farther away. It's bigger, a little more warehouse-like. But they have plenty of books, and a nice coffee shop. I'll try to drop a few more dollars while I'm there, so they don't have to fold their tent, too.

     In the meantime, if you happen to have a Borders gift card that you got for your birthday or Christmas, you'd better hurry on down to spend it. The company said the liquidation sale is expected to be completed by September. And anyway, you might finally get a bargain. Borders is advertising discounts of "up to 40 percent off" regular prices.


Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

So depressing to see independent and now large booksellers closing up shop. My primary profession is and has always been writing and I've written a number of books over the years with major New York publishing hours. Now my agent and I wonder what the future holds. I'm sorry to see the bookstores folding as an avid reader as well. There is one exception to this depressing scenario: Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena, CA that is on the Rose Parade route (Colorado Blvd.). It has been there for decades -- it was a landmark even when I was a child. And it has expanded lately with a coffee and dessert bar, an art house movie theatre and a stationary store -- and thousands and thousands of wonderful books! Whenever we get back to L.A. to visit, we always hit Vroman's. You're right, Tom, that none of us has been spending enough money at the stores -- and too much online!

Kay Dennison said...

I'm sad whenever a bookstore closes. Border's is the only Bookstore we had left here so excuse me while I go mourn.

Robert the Skeptic said...

The Borders senior management was too busy mulling over where they were going to spend their next bonus check to stop and see the market for books going over to e-readers.

Even our small little locally-owned storefront bookstore downtown is on a network where they can sell e-books!!

June said...

I love bookstores, but the big ones overwhelm me. In them I don't see "books," I see shelves upon shelves upon shelves. Even modern lending libraries have that effect on me. I prefer old dusty creaky bookstores and libraries, where the bindings are a little worn and there is, in the air, the scent of Old Book.
I wonder what will happen with the gigantic empty buildings.

Hah! Word verification is "nocat." Another reason I don't like big new bookstores.

schmidleysscribblins.wordpress.com said...

One of my favorite pastimes used to be hanging out in Borders. Now I have my own Expresso machine and buy books via Amazon. I probably am personally responsible for Border's demise. Dianne

Linda Myers said...

I love every word of this post. Thank you so much.

Knatolee said...

I hate seeing any bookstore go under, and I always liked going to Borders when we visited the US. :(