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Thoughts on Borders’ Store Closings

The smallest things can sometimes turn us off. At least, that’s what I have always found.

Take Borders, for example. They announced today they are closing 200 stores costing them $2 million a week. These unprofitable locations are spread out across the U.S. and the long reaching effects on the publishing industry won’t be known for a while yet.

But for me, it’s kind of odd. See, I have never liked Borders and you may be surprised to learn why.


The first Borders I was exposed to was in Fresno California where I grew up. I moved into a place out near a new, developing retail center called River Park. They had an IMAX theater, a Best Buy and a slew of other places in various stages of construction – including a new bookstore called ‘Borders’. As you can imagine, this spot became quite the draw. People were moving into the area, buying up houses and condos as fast as builders could slap them together or renovate em. This area used to be nothing but fields, now it was a booming shopping area. It pretty much killed older malls like Manchester Center and Fashion Fair (which I believe did survive, if by a thread). Prior to River Park, I bought all my books from Waldenbooks in Manchester Center, sometimes from this other place in Fig Garden (I know, I know – I’m tossing out all these names you don’t know – bear with me!) that I liked.

Borders promised to be something different. Not only were they going to sell books, and have a huge selection of titles to boot, they had music, a coffee shop – all sorts of things. (Meanwhile, another new bookstore was getting ready to launch in a more centralized location – Shaw & Blackstone, a two story, massive store called Barnes & Noble that would also feature a coffee shop but no music at first.) My first trip to this Borders place was punctuated by really loud music blasting throughout. It was similar to Tower Records, not any book store I’d ever been in before. I’m not against music, or loud music, but in a bookstore? Plus, it was so loud you couldn’t really talk to anyone. My friends and I were trying to point out cool or interesting things we found and couldn’t do it over the music. Weird. I tell a story now and then about this loud music. One time, we went in there because there was nothing else to do, so we decided to go in and wander around until it was time for our movie to start. The music was blasting, all bass and distorted – couldn’t really understand what it was. As I was wandering around, I started to recognize the beat, the rhythm – then it dawned on me. It was the live, acoustic version of “Hotel California” from the Eagles ‘Hell Freezes Over’ album. You couldn’t hear the words/melody because they had the treble turned all the way down, so all you could hear was the ‘thump’ of the bongo drum…

So, yeah…

I also realized, as I thumbed through their books, that Borders was about the Highlights. Most of their book sections were small across the board, carrying only the ‘highlights’ and bestsellers. Same with their music – it was pop music for the most part and I was into Blues heavily at the time, which barely had a presence. For me, for the SF&F Blues loving guy, there wasn’t a huge selection to choose from, which, of course, puts me off. I’m sure the John Grisham fans had no such problems.

But that’s not why I found myself turned off by Borders. I could deal with the loud, distorted music. I could deal with not being able to hear myself or my friends speak. I could even deal with a small section of books to interest me because a small selection was better than NO SELECTION, right?

What I couldn’t deal with was the little sticker they slapped on everything in the store – including the books.

I admit – I’m a collector. I like to have and keep things like books, just ask anyone who has ever helped me move. Having that sticker on the back of a book bugged the shit out of me. If I bought a book there, I was peeling the sticker off before I got to my car – it just bugged the shit out of me so bad. Plus, those stickers covered up the price on the book, replacing it with the Borders price which felt like it was usually higher – also a negative for me. Worse was when the sticker didn’t want to come off, so bits stuck to the book – my book, the book I want to keep pretty much forever!! Marred by this freaking little sticker placed there, apparently, to piss me off.

I know that it’s a silly thing to get worked up about, but there it is. I got it in my head that that sticker allowed them to charge more even if it didn’t always mean that (logically, my brain tells me that if they wanted to use a custom barcode system, for example, they would need those silly stickers. But also, logically, my brain tells me that adding an extra level of complexity to their inventory process – ie, the silly stickers – means that they have to do something to recoup the cost of printing the silly stickers, paying someone to peel and stick them – SOMETHING LIKE CHARGE ME MORE!). So to my mind, Borders = expensive.

That’s a perception and I don’t think I’m the only one to see it that way. Over the many years since that first visit, Borders was relegated to the very end of the list for me – if I could not find the book I wanted anywhere else in the free world or online, then and only then, would I bother with Borders. Usually to find that they did not, in fact, have the book I was looking for anyway. They only had the highlights.

Sad, I know.

There are places, towns, cities, where Borders is the go to place, I’m sure. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in those towns and where people turn to find their books now.

About Patrick Hester (527 Articles)
Patrick Hester is a writer, blogger, podcasting dude, Denver transplant and all around Functional Nerd. Don't hate him cuz he has a cool hat.

27 Comments on Thoughts on Borders’ Store Closings

  1. My first experience with Borders was in Tyson’s Corner in the early 1990s. I was living in Tucson at the time and Borders had more selection in one place than anything I had ever seen. Later I moved to Phoenix when Barnes and Noble and Borders started expanding. Until the late 90s I always like Borders more. In the late 90s, the quality and selection of books in Borders went downhill quickly. I still liked Borders better, but was getting frustrated going and not finding things that were at Barnes and Noble.

    Borders going into bankruptcy was not a murder to be layed at the hands of Amazon. But it was a suicide by a company that lost its way and it’s lead and never found its way back.

  2. At least with B&N, you can purchase a “discount card”  membership if you do a significant amount of purchasing to help make up for the higher pricing.  Not to mention, I find B&N’s selection to be a little deeper than Borders.  Of course, these days with Amazon.com, I rarely set foot inside a bookstore unless it’s something I want right now.  

  3. I’m right there with you with the stickers. I believe B&N uses the stickers too. It really annoyed me having to peel the stickers off, and if they didn’t have the book you wanted, they were more than happy to order it for you (which ended up costing more than you would have payed for if it had been in the store). I readily admit though, I do most of my book purchasing at B&N. Thanks for the article. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

  4. Jeff VanderMeer // February 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm //

    Our local Borders has always been very supportive of local writers and also has stocked lots of indie press books. The staff has always been wonderful about events, even off-site events.

    Honestly, the sticker, though? You go on and on about a sticker? WTF. Get a real problem or two.

    JeffV

  5. I agree with Mark S. At first Borders had a fabulous selection – especially SF. Not only the bestsellers, but alot of unusual titles not found in in similar stores. But the quality and selection did go downhill, so that I’d end up going to Barnes and Noble instead. Sad to see their decline and demise.

  6. Interestingly, our local Borders had a much more eclectic selection than other bookstores around town which I found out by seeking out a local copy of Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen. They had two copies on the shelf whereas the indie had never heard of it and B&N would happily order it for me for a surcharge.  I’ll be sad to see them go, both stores in my city are due to shutdown.

    Stickers suck but that’s why there’s Goo-B-Gone.

  7. JeffV:  Do you drive around with the dealership advertisement sticker and license plate on the back of your car too?  

    I fully support the sticker-gripe; it’s my book, I paid (from Borders, too much) for it, and I dont want a sticker mucking it up.  Another reason Amazon wins again.  Amazon supports local writers too… by making it easy, affordable, and fun to browse, comment on, and review books… thereby increasing overall interest in and appreciation for books and writers!

  8. Ill say something positive about the Borders near me…

    It had a decent cup of coffee.

    As to the rest, it sucked, and has sucked for a decade or so. No selection worth anything, rude and obnoxious staff, not to mention those stickers… πŸ™‚

    TW

  9. Knight_of_Pentacles // February 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm //

    I’m absolutely with you on hating the stickers.  I find even if you peel them off carefully, some residue stays behind and causes your books to stick to one another when shelved for a while. T. N. Tobias has a good point about the Goo-B-Gone though, I need to try that next time.

    The first borders I even experienced was at the only mall in Ardmore, Oklahoma.  There had previously been a small but adequate Waldenbooks there, and I had been doing business with them for a while.  Soon after the Borders opened though, it closed down.  I should note this mall was so small that it probably could only have supported one bookstore.  Borders had a much worse selection of Science Fiction, and most books in general, but since they also sold music and other products they were able to survie while the dedicated bookstore couldn’t.

  10. I really liked our local Borders. They had a pretty extensive SF and fantasy section, good horror section and a pretty good graphic novel selection, not to mention magazines and comic books. While I still buy most of my books from Amazon I loved browsing Borders and often picked up new books that I wasn’t previously aware of.

    I’m also a book collector and don’t like stickers but as mentioned above Goo-B-Gone works great and makes the dust jackets look like new.

    I’m sad to see our Borders closing

  11. Borders and B&N are the same to me, except sometimes you’ll randomly find a book at only one or the other.  Or at Borders you can get an Cookies & Cream Javakula, and at B&N you can get a Java Chip Frapp.  I’ll be sorry to see the Borders 15 minutes from me closing.  It didn’t seem like they were spending a lot of money, but maybe the profits were low. 

     

  12. @JeffV

    What I’m hearing is that there was some individuality to certain Borders stores which is awesome and, sadly, not the experience I had.  I know an author who absolutely loved Borders because their stores prominently featured his books in large displays – fantastic, awesome, good on him.  The flipside is when I went looking for Mike Resnick’s Starship books from PYR, I couldn’t find a single copy of any of them in the B&N and Borders stores here locally (I went or called 3 of the 1st and 2 of the 2nd) – worse, the people working at those stores had no idea who he was.

    The sticker thing is what stuck out in my mind (no pun intended).  It bugged me.  It still bugs me.  Enough so that I made it a large part of this post – and it resonated with many of the commenters who felt similar to the way I felt about it.  The stickers aren’t the sole problem, though.  There were others that I mentioned – the lack of selection, the loud music, the pricing – all based on my personal experiences with the stores. 

    I also wrote a post here on SFSignal regarding their ludicrous plans to add build a bear kiosks to their locations – yes, teddy bears, in order to drive more traffic to their shops. That bugged me a lot too, because from my point of view, they have been diluting their core business – BOOKS – ever since that first time I walked into one of their stores.  Worse, they did so under the banner of trying to sell more books.  So, in order to sell more books, you have to keep fewer of them on your shelves and make room for other things that will draw people in to buy more books except you don’t have as many as you used to which drives people to Amazon.com who has everything all the time…

    Am I the only one that sees a ridiculous, endless cirlce here?

    I think what has become clear is a fundemental problem with Borders as a company, not just a problem with the stickers: there’s a lack of focus on their core business and a drive for absurd diversity in an economic climate that won’t bear their model anymore. 

    People will pay more for:

    • Excellent customer service
    • Knowledge
    • Convenience

    I do it all the time!  I never had an experience with Borders where any of those three things stood out in my mind.  I freely admit that I could be alone here, that’s fine.  Maybe other people will leave comments full of their positive experiences – awesome!  Please do!

    But for me, all of this paints a clear picture of why they’re closing 200 stores putting a lot of people out of work  – it’s not about the stickers.  And sadly, closing these stores will remove, for some communities, the only resource available to them for books, which is maddening on a whole different level.

    As I said above – a small selection is better than no selection at all.

    ~P
    @atfmb

  13. I would have to agree with the sticker rant, since I do a bit of collecting myself. But I rarely shopped in Borders (I think the last time may have been when the California Guitar Trio was doing an in-store some 7-8 years ago), mainly because their selection wasn’t that great and the prices were too high, especially after Amazon had already become a looming presence.

     

     

  14. I have found both Borders and B&N equally shallow (and lousy) in their book selection.  A plague on both their megastores.  We had an independent bookstore called Wordsworth in Cambridge that I still mourn.  A new independent has opened since, but not remotely approaching Wordsworth in diversity and choice.

  15. One more word on stickers: If any of you have a problem with sticker residue on your dust jackets, I receommend a product called Bestine, which lifts sticker goo right off, at least for coated dust jackets…

  16. I’m curious how much the independent bookstores were affected by the introduction of Borders–and B&N for that matter–to towns across the country all those years ago. I’ll bet there are some out-of-work Mom and Pop operations that are shining up their shoes so they can dance on Borders’ grave.

  17. πŸ™ Good bye… I have spent many a happy browsing in Borders and attended more than a few book signings in their store, they will be missed.

  18. My experience with Borders has been much more positive, over all.

    1st, I have never encountered loud music at any Borders that I have visited.  That was likely the mistake of a single store manager.

    2nd, I rarely buy hardbacks & the stickers on paperbacks are easily removable, leaving no trace of their presence.

    3rd, Borders never charges higher than publishers US price as far as I can tell.

    4th, their selection of SF/F is much better than non-specialty local independent stores.  (They did contribute to the demise of a local chain of medium to large stores that had good SF/F sections)

    5th, we’re keeping 5 of the 6 Borders in our area.  Whatever it’s faults, 1 company (B&N) providing the majority of books in a large area is just too great an opportunity for censorship, whether intentionally or accidentally.

    Their music selection is weak, but the only chain of any sort that had a good 1 (in my experience) was the years-gone Tower.

    If Amazon were to invest in improving the ability to shop for books on-line, they could bury Borders, B&N, and many of the independents that have survived up till now.  That would be bad thing, again due to the possibility of censorship.

  19. Moonbase Alphan // February 17, 2011 at 11:25 pm //

    My first experience with Border’s was at their original store in Ann Arbor, MI on State Street way back in the mid 80’s when I was going to school there. It was an amazing mid-size town independent bookshop, which catered well to the local environment and had a fantastic selection of science fiction.

    I moved away from Michigan years ago, and so I had no idea Border’s later got bought out by K-Mart in 1992 and then franchised across the nation in the 90’s – until I saw one here in Houston a decade ago. I was a bit stunned. My favorite store had been commoditized and sold as a brand around the U.S. and around the world. How could this be?

    I checked out the store, and it was a nice big box bookstore, and had a good SF/F selection, but it wasn’t Borders – my Borders. 

  20. Your point about “highlights” is a pretty bizarre complaint from a SFF site, since the average Borders store over the past twenty years (say from the beginning of the big superstore expansion) had a better SFF selection than perhaps a dozen or so other bookstores in all of North America. Borders has generally been slightly more friendly to SFF than B&N was — and vastly friendlier to our comrades the next genre over in comics/graphic novels/manga. What are these stores that carried more than the “highlights”? And how is anywhere from 100,000-170,000 titles per store a “highlight”?

    You seem to be complaining a lot about lack of depth of stock without actually comparing Borders to anything. The average Borders carries more SFF books than any mall store ever did, as many or just slightly more than an average B&N superstore, and vastly more than most general independents. If you’re comparing it to a specialty store like Mysterious Galaxy or Uncle Hugo’s, then, yes, Borders will come up short. But there are very few of those stores, and there are (for the moment) five hundred Borders, in pretty much every book-buying market in the country.

    And the real problem with the sticker — from a business perspective rather than whatever your particular personal hang-ups are — was what it implied about their supply chain: all books flowing from whatever source (publishers, wholesalers, etc.) had to run through a Borders warehouse and get their “BINC” sticker before reaching a store. That added time and complexity to the system, which is a competitive disadvantage when your main competition (B&N) has a system allowing stores to all order directly.

    It sounds like you had a bad experience with one store that desperately wanted to be a Tower Records, but that is utterly unrepresentative of the chain in general. A more reasonable conclusion would be “there is a badly run bookstore in Fresno, and it’s a Borders.”

    (This is not to say that Borders didn’t have problems — obviously it did, or it wouldn’t be bankrupt. But those were primarily related to a revolving door in the C-suite, leading to lots of expensive and ineffective remodels and new directions; seriously fumbling a web strategy back in 2001; being a three-product retailer — books, music, movies, as the signs say — that had two of those products (not books) decline hugely over the past decade; that their once-industry-leading supply chain management was outdated and cumbersome; and a general lack of compliance and consistency on the store level. Stickers and noise level in your home store are very minor points.)

  21. Steve Oerkfitz // February 18, 2011 at 10:26 am //

    I find the stickers peel off in about in about a second without leaving any residue. Don’t know what the bitching is about unless stores in other areas are using different types of stickers. Also have never run into a problem with loud music at a Borders. Before Borders or B&N in my area we had more independent stores but none carried genre books other than the bestsellers. There has never been a SF specialty store in Michigan that I know of and only one Mystery store and it’s quite a drive.Borders always have discount coupons online so the pricing isn’t bad on books(music and movies are more of a problem).  Have to agree with Andrew Wheeler above.

  22. Picky, picky, picky, picky! My store had grea and very large selections, soft music, intelligent and helpful employees, and the store manager had PhD. in library science. Great book discussion groups and I could go one and on. There is just no pleasing some people. I am glad I do not know any of them.

  23. I’ve never had any bad experiences with Borders.  They used to be my favorite chain because they had a free membership which let you earn points towards purchases (not sure if they still have it).  I haven’t been in a while because the only Borders where I now live is a pain in the but to get by via bus.  Back in El Dorado Hills or Santa Cruz, though, things were much better.  The only thing I didn’t like about Borders was that it often hired people who didn’t know much about books.  But that’s probably a problem with most chains…

    Still, most of the problems I see people talking about in regards to Borders seem to be specific to certain stores.  Tobias Buckell has had issues with his local Borders, I think, but mostly in regards to carrying his books.  This sounds to me like the folks who own Borders haven’t been paying much attention to how they actually run their stores, which makes B&N a much more appealing chain (I like the local B&N in Gainesville since the people there are friendly and helpful).

  24. Well, the Borders’s that are closing are having closing out sales.

     

  25. They sell books in stores?

     

  26. I have a soft spot for Borders.

     

    I was a graduate student in Ann Arbor in the early 1980’s when there was only one Borders, in a hundred year old building on State Street.

     

    It was without question the best bookstore I had ever come across. I used to go there on Saturdays just to while away the hours. No coffee shop. A few chairs. Jam packed with shelves so close you had to stand sideways to navigate between them and every shelf with the books in end on instead of face on, to pack more in.

     

    It was heaven.

     

    So yeah, Borders is still the only brick and mortar store I go to. It is sad what has happened to them. And the store I loved so much closed and was replaced by a generic Borders a block away. But still, it was a wonderland and walking into that store brings a little of that back again.

     

     

  27. I always liked the atmosphere at B&N better than Borders.  I never noticed a ton of difference in the SFF selections.  Though, it appeared the B&Ns I frequented had more books overall than the Borders.

    Either way, I don’t go to bookstores anymore (same books all the time).  Amazon has a better selection, especially in SF, and I can get more info on the book on Amazon than I can at a store. 

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