The Death of a Bookstore

Okay, so Borders isn’t dying so to speak, just filing for bankruptcy. My local store is one of the ones slated for closure. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since the news was announced. Where did they go wrong? Here’s my thinking, if anyone cares.

My first experience with Borders came when I was a kid. They opened up in my town and I was enthralled. There was this store with all these shelves of books you could get lost in. The tables up front held art books and photo books and the occasional bargain book. I can’t even begin to tell you how many treasures I found on those tables. How many of those books I still own twenty years later. There was no pretension in that store, it wasn’t pretending to be anything but what it was. A bookstore for book lovers.

The store I saw today had very little to remind me of that first one. The tables up front were filled with copies of books that everyone already knows the names to. That fill the bestseller lists. In one corner there stood a gift and stationary section complete with umbrellas and lego mini figures. Literary fiction and non-fiction lined the outside walls. There were a few more tall shelves of non fiction. A large three-sided floor display for manga, roleplaying games and YA. The back corner housed the children’s section which had as many toys as books.

And then there were the shelves full of movies and music, the cafe, the calendar display, the magazine displays. Smack dab in the middle of all of this were five or six shelves that housed the genre fiction front and back. Six short shelves both in height and length. And here I was reminded why I quit shopping at Borders in the first place.

It morphed from this fantasy land of my childhood where I could get lost for days to this commercial, cold thing. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I go in a bookstore, I go there to buy books. In all my many trips to many different bookstores, I have never bought a movie and only once have a purchased a CD. It’s a BOOK store. I don’t buy toys there for my kids, or board games or umbrellas. I want to buy an escape to my real life, an adventure on the high seas, or a day in the rain forest or fall in love with the local cop who happens to be a werewolf with a vampire cousin. Whatever.

This huge bookstore had six pathetic shelves dedicated to the books that make up the majority of the sales. And they wonder where they went wrong. Really? I quit shopping at Borders because they never had the books I was looking for. Usually when I go to a bookstore it’s because I have read about a series or a book I just have to read right now. Sometimes those books are several years old. Too many times I went to Borders only to have to leave and go down the street to Barnes and Noble who always seemed to have what I was after.

Now don’t get me wrong, Barnes and Noble has a cafe and gifts and movies and music. But all that stuff takes up the same amount of room as it does at Borders. The Barnes and Noble has probably three times the square footage. And the rest of that is filled with books. Wonderful, glorious books. Which is why I go to a bookstore in the first place. Borders seems to have forgotten that.

I’m sorry for those that have lost their jobs, and even sorrier that the managers found out in a conference call shortly before the rest of us did. I’m hopeful that Borders takes the opportunity to learn from this and truly does restructure. If they got back to their roots, I might drive the forty-five minutes I’m now going to have to go to get to one of their stores.

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