Oh, hell, Borders is Going Under

I really hated reading this today. Borders Books has been unable to find a buyer and so will go into liquidation. Over 11,000 people will lose their jobs, including some good acquaintances at the two Borders stores near me, wonderful people who have always been sweet and kind to me and my kids on our visits.

I’ve always been a champion of independent bookstores. I recognize that the rise of Borders (perhaps less so than the rise of Barnes and Noble) put many of those independent bookstores out of business. But I still find this very sad. A big-box corporate bookstore is still a bookstore. Many smaller towns and outlying suburbs had no bookstores at all until Borders moved in. And it has always been a pleasant place to hang out. I much prefer Seattle’s Best Coffee to Starbuck’s, so I enjoyed sipping coffee at my local Borders (or stores I would find out on the road) a lot more than grabbing a cup of “Char-bucks” at a Barnes and Noble.

I suppose this is part of Creative Destruction, the churn and storm un drang that are part of the workings of a capitalist economy. Borders killed off a lot of independent bookstores by offering more stock of more books at lower prices than most independents could match. Now Borders is being killed off by cannier competitors who are taking better advantage of new technologies than Borders seemed to be able to do. Someday, Amazon and Apple may be slain by younger, nimbler competitors in their turn.

But losing a bookstore, any bookstore, is always sad. And the country is about to lose four hundred of them.

I’ll be posting later today and tomorrow about the potpourri of places I used to buy books as a kid in North Miami Beach in the 1970s. A heck of a lot has changed in the book selling business since then. And a heck of a lot continues to change.

4 comments

  1. Robyn says:

    I remember the days in NMB and how much we HATED going into bookstores with you when we were growing up. We could never get you out. 🙂

  2. Maury Feinsilber says:

    Man, it really is sad AND confusing in the “what goes around comes around” sense of the sentiment. That said, all of those stores closing won’t bring back all of the independent stores the megastores helped to kill. I wonder how long and how well B&N will last — in just the past few years, three of their giant stores have closed. Meanwhile, you should see the throngs at the Strand — it’s busier than ever, thank God.

    • Andrew says:

      I’m glad to hear the Strand remains a going proposition. I agree with you to an extent that the death of the books megastores won’t bring the independents back. . . but those megastores, I believe, have created a certain level of demand in areas where such demand did not previously exist, a demand which may now be met by some enterprising entrepreneurs who are willing to take the risk of founding new independent bookstores. Before Barnes and Noble and Borders and, to a lesser extent, Books-a-Million, hundreds of metropolitan areas, either small cities or the suburbs and exurbs of big cities, had no access to a local bookstore of any type (aside from maybe a paperback exchange kind of place). But the megastores gave the residents of those areas their own local bookstore and, maybe just as importantly (or more importantly), a place to hang out, meet friends for coffee, or sit in the coffee shop and peruse a magazine or a new book. For many people, their local Borders or Barnes and Nobles came to serve as a kind of community center or that special kind of place where you can go to be alone, but among other people. When 400 Borders stores close down, that is going to leave a void in a lot of people’s lives, a void that can’t be readily filled by bars or restaurants. It won’t happen everywhere, but I think in a good number of places, local entrepreneurs are going to try to fill those voids. Books may make up only part of their businesses, but the books will be part of those businesses’ “furniture,” so to speak, an attractant to get customers to come in and spend money on coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and gift items. It’ll be interesting to watch. Mitchell Kaplan in South Florida appears to have mastered this formula with his Books and Books stores.

  3. Dara Fox says:

    I still remember going into Oakwood Mall as a kid. The bookstore, I think it was Walden; a music store, Werlein’s, with a live piano player selling pianos; the pet store with the puppy dogs in the window; the four-screen movie theater; and the K&B drug store. Ain’t there no more.

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