Bye-bye, Borders – for real, and for good

Before too long, I will be living in a town that doesn’t have a bookstore. I’ve known it was a possibility since early this year, but I didn’t want to accept that it might actually happen. But the liquidation sales started on July 22, and when I drove by the store a few days later, I saw the sadly familiar yellow-and-black banner. This one didn’t say “Store Closing,” though – the new wording is “Going Out of Business.” Sadness washed over me.

I’ve talked about Borders here before, and I’m not sure I have a lot to add to what I said the last time:

Some time in the mid-1990s, the way I shopped for books changed. Borders Books and Music opened their first store in the Memphis area. Just inside the Germantown (Tennessee) city limits, it was located at Carrefour along Kirby Parkway, between the Poplars (Poplar Avenue and Poplar Pike). I’d never seen a bookstore that offered its variety of titles and genres – and it was a five-minute walk from the apartment I lived in at the time.  

 

It wasn’t long before I became a regular shopper there, and it became hard to fathom that I’d once been content with mall bookstores. The store was always bustling but rarely felt crowded, and you didn’t feel like a loser hanging out there on Saturday night.

 

I haven’t been to my first Borders in nearly nine years – since I moved to California – but I’ve shopped in plenty of other ones, and it’s remained my favorite of the big bookstores. I was excited when a new Borders – the first “real” bookstore in Simi Valley – opened not long before I moved here. It was smaller than my original Borders, but the vibe was much the same. It quickly became a popular place to meet friends and browse, and that’s continued up until the very end.”

The “very end” is where we are now. While stories of the decline of bricks-and-mortar bookstores have become very familiar to many of us, the ones I visit most often still appear to be pretty active places. I realize that they’re just a small sample and that my statement is merely an anecdotal observation, but based on it, I can’t help believing that a customer base for consumption of the printed word continues to thrive. 

Having said that, and based on what I’ve read about the company, I also believe that Borders’ problems stemmed from a faulty understanding of how to connect with and nurture that customer base. In recent years, the company’s senior management turned over frequently and rarely came with a background in the book business. The company was deeply in debt and committed to long-term, expensive leases on many of its stores; inability to renegotiate some of those leases was a major factor in its collapse.

My point is that Borders’ failure is ultimately much more the result of corporate missteps than any wholesale rejection by the reading, book-buying public – a public that remains strong. Even as the ways that we access books are changing and digital books on e-readers close in on their dead-tree cousins, our appetite for reading itself looks pretty healthy to me; it’s feeding that appetite that seems to be the challenge.

As a reader and a book buyer, I mourn the loss of a bookstore I appreciated and supported for many years and in a variety of locations. I’m truly sorry that it came down to this. And as a resident of Simi Valley, I hope someone will be up for the challenge of giving my community a new bookstore of its own – I look forward to supporting that, too.

Photo sources: Borders.com Store Selector (stores #114 and #589)

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