Today, I went to my local Borders store to bid it farewell. Store number 80 in the once mighty empire has been a fixture for some fifteen to upward of twenty years. It has been there seemingly for longer. I first stepped foot in a borders near the Villanova campus in Pennsylvania. A trip that took almost an hour (boring for a teenager), stayed there for four hours (I was done within an hour, also boring for a teenager who did not yet drink coffee) and then drove back for an hour (boooooooring).
Yet, I wasn’t bored because of books. I have, and always will, love books. I was bored because I didn’t have any possibility to buy anything without my parents’ leave, which meant there was little point in reading all of these great books that I wasn’t going to get to finish (no wheels, no library trips). But, I was instantly awestruck by the scope of the store. It was a new thing. A thing that would definitely take its hold on me, despite my love of independent stores – I discovered Between books at about the same time.
It was a tricky relationship, much like any actual person to person relationship. Borders had things the local shops did not sometimes, and would have it on hand as opposed to being able to be put on order. Sometimes, I could only afford a book if I had the discount the bigger store could offer. Sometimes, I was so hard up for money I had to work at Borders to get money (and rather substantial employee discount). And so, Store 80 became a part of me, for good or ill.
I won’t paint a picture of butterflies and kittens and good, good times at Borders. There were times that working at borders flat out sucked. Not because of the work. The work was fine, even when I had to deal with customers who seemed deeply illiterate despite their presence in a bookstore. It was the pay that sucked. Well, that and the hours. And some of the management policies – okay, and some of the managers. But, for all of that, it was the best health insurance I ever had (hernia surgery: $55 and three weeks of disability), I amassed a sizable collection of books and met a fantastic array of friends. I had a romance there, ill-fated as it was. I learned how the marketing aperture of the publishing machine worked, the supply chain, the working, the filing, the ins and outs.
Maybe Dickens did have a best and worst of times justification. Though I still hate A Tale of Two Cities, Chuck. Not a fan.
And then, after a little under eighteen months, I left the store. I started to more heavily go to Between Books and local shops. Borders changed shortly after I left. They started selling crazy shit – board games, wrapping paper, knick-knacks. Stuff that wasn’t books. I’d still hit them up every so often. Nesting at a Borders store cafe was always nice. It gave me a chance to preview magazines and books, many of which I would kindly reshelve and pick up at Between Books, then take the magazine and non-genre stuff I’d find and make my purchases. It was a kind of a balance.
Then, sometime about a year ago, the death knells began. Borders was a sinking ship. It was dying from the inside out. The reasons were numerous – bad management, lack of product focus, the inability to get into the e-book market in time, stiffing the publishers on payments for products while they tried to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. Perhaps, much like the big dogs in Corporate America, Borders simply thought its was too big to fail.
Well, here we are.
When I went to the store today it was melancholy. The sales weren’t even particularly good. The 40% items they had going were almost exclusively video and audio media. Most books were at 10%. Given that e-books or even used books are less than what they’re offering… I don’t anticipate their stores are even going to do well in liquidation mindset. Not only is the ship sinking, it is also on fire, and the musicians, also on fire, are scrambling into deck chairs which they are setting ablaze.
As much as I see this as a potential win for smaller stores, it’s also not so great news for them. Indy stores will no doubt take a hit this month, and possibly keep taking hits on into November, depending on how fast everything goes during the liquidation of BGI, the parent company of Borders Books and Music. From a chain store angle, this also means less shelf space. Less for existing authors. Less for hopeful authors like myself who will no doubt have a harder time of it given there is now a great void where books used to sit laying in wait to be purchased (or thumbed through by readers in the cafe). To add to all of this, Barnes &Noble is, from indications I am beginning to see, not doing so well either, though I couldn’t begin to tell you why exactly. It seems the brick and mortar stores are struggling now. A return to local bookstores would be wonderful in some ways – but it will change the way the industry functions in a time of already maddening changes. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.
Regardless though, today’s trip to store 80 was a sad one, and I will miss the store. It was a part of my identity, and to see a part of one’s identity fold and crumble away into the past is a hard thing. I have seen it happen with relationships, I have seen it happen to my artistic efforts, I have seen it happen to my circle of friends and family. Watching something die sucks, and as much as I hate to say it, Borders was a big part of mine.
So, goodbye store 80. And goodbye BGI. It was nice while it lasted.