I went into the Borders in downtown Long Beach today, thinking I might browse around and then do some writing. Since I’d never been in that particular location, I also wanted to drop in before it disappeared. Borders, you may have heard, is rapidly approaching terminal velocity in the company’s long fall from its glory days in the nineties.
Walking around the store, I became increasingly sad. Not counting the individual staffers at the cafe and cash registers, I saw one other employee on the floor. Apart from campers in the cafe, there were very few customers. I saw some books on the shelves by author friends and colleagues, but the stickers on the back betrayed that they’d been sitting there as long as six months, and the single copies there were the only ones ordered back then. No movement… and evidence that, like I’d heard, Borders has indeed suspended returning slow sellers to the publishers in order to keep stock on the shelves because the chain has had its credit revoked by many of those same publishers as a consequence of non-payment.
Dead stock on the shelves and no new stock coming in. Stagnation! I left without cracking open my laptop; I needed a different, more lively atmosphere.
Why The Death Of Borders Matters To Me
I worked for Borders — back when it was called “Borders Books and Music” — from 1995 to 2005. I started working for the company when the chain prided itself in stocking backlist titles, individual stores were encouraged to express creative autonomy in their merchandising and each location was truly a “third place” and a hub of the community with a full-time employee to serve that community with events and entertainment. It was a great place that served a larger purpose, and I was proud to be part of that.
When I left, the backlist was only available via special orders, merchandising was centralized, homogenized and codified in a huge binder of instructions that changed every few weeks and the Community Relations Coordinator position was long gone. The writing was on the wall and my own exit was years overdue.
Retail Abhors a Vacuum
I used to mourn the Borders that was. Now, I’m actually looking forward to the company’s demise. I am concerned for the friends who still work for the company, believe me. But I’m excited for the possibilities the disappearance of Borders might create. Barnes and Noble isn’t healthy enough to replace Borders stores in most locations… but perhaps small, niche independent stores with actively cultivated connections to their community might spring up again?
I think that would be neat. What are your thoughts on the demise of Borders and the decline of the book superstore in general?