Tag Archive for Borders Books

Wonderful Article on the First Borders Store

Borders Books and Music Store #1, Ann Arbor, Michigan

In light of my earlier blogging on the death of Borders Books and Music, I wanted to point out a wonderfully researched and very poignant article about the closing of the very first Borders store, the original location in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The author, CNN entertainment writer Todd Leopold, goes above and beyond the usual “slice of life” type article, interviewing a number of Borders employees who began with the company back when it had only a single store and was still selling mostly used books. The article manages to be both heartbreaking in its illustration of what the loss of Borders means to some people and, in a way, uplifting to those of us who love books and the world that centers around them, by showing the depth of passion that at least a portion of the population feels for the written word and the culture surrounding it. Great article. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

(Full disclosure: Dara and I were good friends with Todd Leopold’s mother June when we lived in New Orleans. I never met Todd myself, although Dara used to play with him when they both were kids. June should be very proud of her son for having written this article. Go ahead and kvell, June!)

My last-minute purchases at my local Borders during their final three days in business? I will admit to gorging somewhat (although the lure of 90% off makes it hard not to):

Flashback by Dan Simmons
Masked edited by Lou Anders
The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern
The Believers by Zoe Heller
Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer
Pied Piper by Neville Shute
The Breaking Wave by Neville Shute
Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories (The Lottery / The Haunting of Hill House / We Have Always Lived in the Castle) edited by Joyce Carol Oates for the Library of America
Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
Flashman, Flash for Freedom!, Flashman in the Great Game (Everyman’s Library Classics & Contemporary Classics) by George MacDonald Fraser

I hope to get around to blogging on some of these books, once I’ve read them (if I can ever find the time to sit and read!).

There was an odd, stressful, and sad vibe in my local Borders on my final two visits there, to the location in Woodbridge, Virginia. Employees were disassembling the furniture while we customers stood in line with our armloads of books. Three or four rented U-Haul trucks were parked right outside the entrance, being slowly filled with bookshelves and display tables and lighting fixtures. Signs were posted next to the bathrooms stating that the bathrooms were closed; the sinks and toilets had been sold and removed. An employee who caught my three boys wandering through the vast, newly empty spaces of what had been the children’s section begged me to keep them close by me, as “the store is no longer a safe environment, not with everything being taken apart.” So I made them sit near my feet as I maneuvered around the other customers who, like me, were hurriedly scanning the remaining shelves of fiction. They sat on the carpet, played with toy cars, and joked with each other. On our first visit, a woman shot me a scathing look and told her husband, “Let’s get out of here! It’s hot as hell (the air conditioning had been turned off) and those are some of the most obnoxious children I’ve ever had the misfortune to be around.” On our last visit, the following day, another woman, a little younger than the first, told me as we stood in line that she thought my boys were adorable and she loved listening to their conversations with each other; when I told her what the first woman had said, she remarked, “She must’ve had some kind of problem not related to you and your kids at all.”

Maybe she was in mourning for her favorite store?

Whatever. Consider this my (very) modest addition to Todd Leopold’s outstanding article.

Last Chance for Borders Bargains!

This is a Public Service Announcement from Fantastical Andrew Fox.com, the Website That Wants to Be Your Pal (TM).

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. {Strange whirring sound, followed by series of BLAAATs.}

This is a message from Fantastical Andrew Fox.com regarding a Book Buying Opportunity. Borders Books and Music has entered the final week of their liquidation sale (according to the emails they’ve been sending me daily; however, I strongly suspect they will have a Post-Liquidation Liquidation Sale, and maybe a Post-Post Liquidation, We Really Mean It Now Sale). All items in all remaining stores have been marked down by 60% to 80%. There are also some very nice deals on lightly used blonde wood bookshelves (three for $100; a real bargain if you have a large library and plenty of open wall space; if I had room, I’d pick up some of these myself).

Genre fiction (SF, fantasy, mystery, and romance) is marked down 60%. So are bargain books (marked down an additional 60% from their original bargain prices), graphic novels (lots and lots of manga was left in the store I went to, but not much from non-manga publishers), CDs, DVDs, and history. General (or “literary”) fiction is marked down 70%. Political analysis and philosophy are marked down 80%. Rather interesting commentary on the relative market values of those various categories of books (looks like nobody wants to read about President Obama, either pro or con).

In the store I visited (Woodbridge in Northern Virginia), ALL of the toys and children’s books were gone. The top mark-down for those items was 50% off. Good thing I stocked up for Hanukkah for the three boys a week and a half ago, while Borders still had some kids’ stuff left. However, there are still plenty of Young Adult books in stock, along with a good bit of manga.

Here’s what I treated myself to yesterday (plus a book on Blue Ridge Mountains birding for the missus):

Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of The 1960s / The Man in the High Castle / The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich / Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? / Ubik (Library of America No. 173) — 60% off

The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction — 60% off

A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul — 70% off

Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis — 70% off

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem — 70% off (really should have been labeled “science fiction,” but anything by Lethem is automatically [Capital] L Literature, so I got an additional 10% knocked off; thanks, snobs!)

More on Borders Books

Just a quickie post. I took the boys over to one of our two local Borders Books yesterday to check out their liquidation sale. In the last few years, Borders developed a really nice selection of educational and semi-educational toys, and my kids were always finding various items they would beg me for. Since these were generally items costing over $15, I’d tell them, “Wait for Hanukkah or your birthday.” So yesterday we went to see what sort of discounts Borders was offering in the Children’s section, so that I could possibly stock up for those upcoming holidays and birthdays (as Borders will no longer be in existence come this fall).

Currently the markdown in the Children’s section is 10%. Not enough to make me jump, especially not when the store had gotten me used to receiving 40% off coupons in my email inbox every couple of weeks or so. More interestingly, the majority of the books in the store were marked either 10% off or 20% off. Following Act One of the Borders bankruptcy, when they closed 400 of their stores earlier this year, their new online policy was to offer all paperbacks at 20% off list and all hardbacks at 30% off list. So their initial “Going Out of Business Liquidation Sale” prices were a good bit higher than what they’d been hawking on their own website very recently.

Yet the store was packed. The crowds were tearing the place apart; stock was scattered all over the floor, particularly in the Children’s section. The line at the cash registers was easy thirty people deep. I found a Solomon Burke CD from Rhino Records I was interested in, but I took one look at the line and put it back where I found it.

Never underestimate the psychological pull of those magical words, “Going Out of Business Liquidation Sale.” If only Borders would have figured some way to pull this sort of stunt every month at their stores, they’d still be a going concern.

The Future of Bookstores

Octavia Books in New Orleans

The death of Borders Books (and let’s not forget the associated death of subsidiary WaldenBooks, once a huge force in book retailing) has many people prognosticating about the future of physical bookstores. As a writer, a reader, and a lifelong aficionado of bookstores, I’d like to jump into the conversation.

An old, if somewhat inaccurate, adage tells us that the Chinese word for “crisis” is made up of two characters, one representing “danger” and the other “opportunity.” The “danger” part of the dissolution of Borders is clear enough. Nearly 11,000 people employed by Borders Books and WaldenBooks will lose their jobs. An unknown number of publishing employees whose sole or primary responsibility has been to take care of the Borders account will also lose their jobs. For writers and their readers, the danger is that the loss of so much retail shelf space is going to slash the numbers of titles which are green-lit by publishers, as explained in an article from National Public Radio called “Bye Bye Borders: What the Chain’s Closing Means for Bookstores, Authors, and You“:

“Kathleen Schmidt, a book publicist, provided this perfectly concise explanation on Twitter: ‘Here is how the Borders closing will impact publishers: Say you have a bestselling author and you usually do a 1st printing of 100K books. Out of that 1st print of 100K, B&N/Amazon would take a large quantity, then Target, maybe Costco/BJs/Walmart, then Borders, then indies. If you’re an author with a 1st print of 30K (a lot), you prob don’t have price clubs or Target. You have B&N, Amazon, Borders, and indies. Now, take Borders OUT of that 1st print equation. Also consider that B&N is conservative with numbers these days. That 30K turns into 15K.'”

For the major publishers, 15K of anticipated sales is the borderline between green-lighting a trade paperback novel and rejecting the author’s manuscript. The likeliest outcome of the disappearance of all those shelves at Borders is that fewer projects will get past the Profits and Loss Departments of the Big Six publishing houses. Some of the slack may be taken up by smaller, independent publishing firms, but they will be affected by the loss of retail shelf space, too. Their “go/no go” borderline may be 3K sales, rather than 15K sales, but they are still faced with the same arithmetic. The departure of Borders will hasten the exodus of many lower-selling writers from traditional print to e-book originals and print-on-demand.

Any shift away from printed books to e-books would seem to be certain to hurt the surviving physical bookstores (although many independent bookstores now make it possible for their customers to order Google Books through them). Independent booksellers have experienced a modest resurgence in recent years; after fifteen years of steady decline, the American Booksellers Association, the trade group of independent bookstores, reported a 7% increase in the number of member stores in the past year. However, some independent bookstores which have managed to survive thus far in the shadows of Borders may actually be swamped by the wake of Borders’ sinking:

“‘What troubles me,’ says Susan Novotny, owner of Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany and Market Block Books in Troy, N.Y., ‘is having them [Borders] in a constant state of giving away books.’ She worries about ‘a hang-over effect’ from customers who are booked out.”

So there we have the “danger” part of “crisis.” What about the “opportunity” part?

I believe physical bookstores provide a vital element of what sociologist refer to as “the third space.” The first space is the home, the second is the workplace, and the third space is, like the classic French cafe or the English pub or (in the 1950s and 1960s) the American bowling alley, the place where people go to spend their leisure time among other people. One thing that the expansion of Borders (and Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million) did over the past twenty-five years was to give a taste of bookstores-as-third-space to millions of people who previously had no bookstores to call their own. Prior to the mid-1980s, 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 used paperback exchange kind of place). But the megastores gave the residents of those areas their own local bookstore, a place to hang out that didn’t involve alcohol, a place to meet friends for coffee or sit in the cafe area 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. Many independent bookstores offer these same amenities and may even do them better, but the megastores planted themselves in many places where no independent bookstores had gone. 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. The Borders store closing in Scranton, Pennsylvania is the last bookstore in the entire city; the smaller chain bookstores located in malls closed in the mid-2000s, along with two independents.  Bookstore regulars in Scranton fear they will have nowhere else to go.

Where enough demand exists, entrepreneurs find ways to meet those demands. Joseph Robertson is bullish on the future of independent bookstores. His recent article, “Borders Closure is Green Light for Bookstore Innovation,” lists four innovations which may help new (or newly revitalized) independent bookstores to thrive in many markets:

The true cafe/bookstore: A more balanced relationship between the bookstore and cafe sections of a retail space, with high quality coffee, with events and music, gatherings and opportunities to sit down with authors, and a bookstore that echoes this quality with content.

The information oasis: Bookstores can reposition themselves as trusted sources of information, stocking quality publications, some new to newcomers, and unique titles with real depth and scope, understood by intelligent, engaged buyers and salespeople. Mainstream media may be an echo-chamber, but bookstores can be places where the individual is free to think for herself.

The genius bar: One of the reasons Apple’s stores are popular with Mac lovers is that they provide information and knowledge that is useful; customers can learn from staff. Bookstores could make sure to be a source of guidance to the reading public, taking back that role from distributors and advertisers and being more pro-active about deciding what they stock.

The cyber-paper crossover: Barnes and Noble, BN.com and the Nook, have made for an impressive collaboration. Small bookstores can take Borders’ market share, collectively, if they learn the lesson Borders missed: assist your readers in all media, and they will stand by you. Wifi is useful, but dedicated new-fangle web access, whatever that looks like, could help bricks-and-mortar independents sell print books.”

I would add a few suggestions to Robertson’s list:

The child-friendly bookstore: Borders was actually fairly strong in this regard with their designated children’s play and reading area and their Saturday afternoon story hours and activities for children. We parents are always looking for good indoor activities for our kids, perfect for those times when you just have to get them out of the house but inclement weather prevents you from taking them to a park or a playground. My local Borders stores were always very welcoming to my kids, and on days when they catered to children, crowds in the stores were healthy. I think one way in which Borders got themselves into trouble was their selection of locations. A good number of their stores were in areas which commanded extremely high rents. The stores may have succeeded in attracting a steady flow of customers, browsers, and folks who brought their kids for events, but their overhead was so stratospherically high that they suffered losses year after year. Corporate leaders were seeking status locations, locations which would allow them to build the Borders brand as upscale and somewhat exclusive, but the items their stores sold weren’t high margin enough to pay the rents. Independent bookstores typically don’t have owners who are slaves to prestige. Owners of non-corporate bookstores are often cannier about their locations than their corporate counterparts and are free to select locations in underutilized, lower-status retail areas which, although commanding much lower rents, may have unique advantages particular to a given neighborhood (nearness of restaurants or other centers of social activity; located in an area being gentrified by artists; etc.), advantages not so visible to an owner who doesn’t live in the community.

The rebirth of the newsstand: Mitchell Kaplan, owner of the local Books and Books chain of stores in South Florida, is pioneering this idea. He started with his original store in Coral Gables, a traditional full-service independent bookstore, but several of his other locations are very different. His notion was to replicate the magazines and cafe sections of Borders or Barnes and Noble but in a smaller, more intimate size, appropriate for tight spots in areas with high levels of foot traffic, such as South Beach or the Bal Harbour Shops. The wide variety of magazines gives Kaplan’s spinoffs a leg up on Starbucks or other corporate coffee houses and makes his locations much more of a destination for couples out on a date or individuals looking to spend a pleasant hour or two. A carefully and intelligently curated small selection of books would also add to the allure of a newsstand/coffee bar. Books were once widely available at newsstands. I think they should be again.

The center for writer-reader interaction and reader-reader interaction: My favorite independent bookstore in New Orleans, Octavia Books, is very good at this. Owner Tom Lowenberg swam against the tide and opened his store a little more than a decade ago, when hundreds of independent bookstores were dying off each year. He has built an extremely loyal customer base by making Octavia Books a headquarters for readers’ encounters with writers and readers’ encounters with each other. In addition to hosting five or six author events each week, Tom also makes his store available to a wide variety of reading groups, providing them complimentary refreshments and a familiar, friendly face.

Bookstores of the future may need to become more like microbreweries, focusing on their uniqueness, their sense of their region and neighborhood, and their owners’ personalities. More and more books may be consumed in the form of pixels, rather than ink on paper. But I believe physical bookstores will continue to exist and thrive as a vital and beloved “third space.”

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.

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