My closest large bookstore is a Borders (not counting the small new/used store in my town), and it’s closing, as well as the Borders I pass on my way to work. As a lot of others do, I have mixed feelings about this. I’m very sad for the people who will be losing their jobs and I wonder what it means for the future of bookstores. I also feel that it won’t make a whole lot of difference to me personally (directly, right now — who knows about long-term consequences). I used to go to Borders fairly often, but in recent years stopped going, mostly because I began acquiring books in other ways. Being who I am, I feel a little guilty about this, as though my failure to shop at Borders is the cause of all their problems.

Hobgoblin and I used to go to Borders whenever we needed a new book to read. It seems unbelievable now, but I used to run out of things to read and need to go to a bookstore to find something new. Blogging changed all that, of course; it was after I began blogging that my TBR shelves grew and grew, and now I won’t run out of anything to read for a decade or so. I’m very happy to have all the stockpiled books I do, but there was something fun about finishing up a book, heading out to the store, picking something out, and coming home to read it right away. Now when I buy books, I’m likely to read them only after a lot of time has passed, but it was satisfying to dive into my new purchase immediately.

I also remember shopping at Borders, looking at the books and thinking, I really have no idea what I want to read. This was partly because the selection at Borders was never all that great, but it was also because while I read reviews here and there, I didn’t follow the book business nearly as closely as I do now. Now I have no trouble thinking of things I want to read — I have a wishlist with hundreds of books on it — but then I would look at the books and not know much about them. I’m not much of a risk-taker when it comes to reading, so I tended to stick with the authors I knew, largely classic, canonical stuff and the biggest contemporary names. It was as I started reading blogs and learning more about all the books out there that I started shopping at Borders less. I figured out that I’d rather get books from elsewhere — Powell’s online or Book Mooch or my small local shop — and that Borders wasn’t likely to have what I wanted.

But still, I’m sad to see it go. Hobgoblin and I headed out there last weekend to check out the sales, and I couldn’t believe the long line of people waiting to buy books. I had never seen so many people in the store before. The line stretched all the way through the shop to the very back. It was a fast-moving line, but still people were waiting a good 20-30 minutes to pay. If what I saw that day is any clue, reading is certainly not dead, nor are paper books. People were so excited about the sale — and it was only 20% off, which, I suspect, isn’t all that much of a bargain when compared to Amazon prices. But it was an event and people wanted to be there. I bought a few things (The Yacoubian Building, A Novel Bookstore, E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel), but I felt strangely guilty doing so, as though I had failed to support the store and was only showing up to take advantage of it now that it was failing. The workers looked a little shell-shocked, as well they might with such a crowd and on the verge of losing their jobs, and I imagined them thinking, “why didn’t you all show up when we needed you?”

So, yeah, even though Borders was far, far from the best bookstore out there and I’d much rather spend my money at independent stores, I’m still sad that it’s closing.


Filed under Books

25 responses to “Borders

  1. It certainly isn’t a good sign. If major chains like Borders close down like that, how can indie booksellers survive? But I share your ambivalence. Even if they remain opened, we might not buy from them since as you said there are many other sources and I’m afraid, the online and eBooks are taking over fast. Just like all the video stores are soon becoming a thing of the past. Another point, I too find that my TBR list grows much longer as I blog… and you’re so right, can last me a decade. 😉


  2. There are three Borders in the Nashville area and one of them is closing. I went to check out the sale this weekend, but wound up only buying a travel book that was in the bargain section for $2 and a few blank journals. Oh and a bunch of magazines as they were all 40% off. I would certainly have broken my book buying ban if there had been a good sale on books, but I’m afraid that 20% off simply isn’t enough if I want to buy all the books I want! It was incredible to see the droves of people there, though I thought it was somewhat funny since I would imagine most of them were picking up merchandise that really wasn’t all that discounted. You just need to say the word “sale” and people go crazy.

    The Borders closest to my house is staying open, but I am worried about it. The last few times I’ve been in there, there have been fewer and fewer tables displaying and promoting new books. It kind of feels like they’re giving up…


  3. I don’t think I would even have noticed the demise of Borders if it weren’t for the book-blogging world – I am so lucky that Portland has so many good indies in addition to the huge presence of Powell’s. But still, I understand peoples’ anxiety and sadness about their closure.

    I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a TBR stack, but I used to be like you’re describing about knitting and yarn – I’d buy yarn for one project, go knit it up, then go to the store and buy yarn for the next project. No more! Even if I don’t have a huge stash compared to some people, there are always lots of pattern ideas roaming around in my head and if I have an opportunity to go yarn-shopping I don’t wait for a pattern. Funny how these habits evolve…


  4. zhiv

    Really excellent post. Capturing a strange pause, an odd static moment, for many of us. I went over this holiday weekend too. I saw the huge line. I looked around at books for 20% off, and thought that wasn’t really a significant discount. I didn’t think about how I buy very few, if any, books that are new, at full price. I guess I don’t really do my share to support authors and the book business, when I think about it. But that’s a dark road, no reason to go down it right now, and your post hits at the heart of the experience. There we are at Borders, bankrupt and closing, tons of great books on the shelves, not buying them, we already have teetering tbr stacks. Odd times, and one wonders what things will be like in the literary world of the 2090s. No Borders. But will Powell’s still be around?


  5. My area (Tampa) has three Borders, and all of them are closing. I agree that Borders had lame selection, but I always bought my books from the bargain stacks. (I always found it funny that the books I wanted to read invariably wound up remaindered.) What’s also funny is that Tampa’s only indie bookstore is a house, and probably a third the size of Borders, and it still had much better selection.

    Still, this makes me wonder about the future of brick-and-mortar places. But I think we all knew Borders was headed in this direction. When they started closing their Waldenbooks stores several years ago, I knew they were in trouble.


  6. Borders closed in the UK last year, so I remember all this very vividly – the exact same thing, queues of people at the tills and yet the discounts still didn’t bring the books in line with amazon prices. It is a very, very strange book world out there at present, and a disconcerting one.


  7. ann163125

    As Litlove says, Borders closed here in the UK last year, but we didn’t see the queues at our local store that you’ve been describing. We have two Waterstones in town and they always seem to have done a better job at attracting customers and their staff were/are certainly more knowledgable.I’m always sorry to see a bookshop go, but the only people I’ve heard regret this particular closure were some ex-students of mine, who still all met up together on a regular basis in the in-store cafe.


    • Why did it do that? Suddenly my computer is posting my yahoo name. It’s ME!!!


      • bookgazing

        I’m always really surprised to hear people say Borders didn’t have the best selection, as (apart from the very large Waterstones in the same city) our closest one always seemed to be full of books I wanted or had never heard of. I remember having to wait three hours for a train in Glasgow and spending all my time wandering their 6 story Borders. Maybe you just have more, better stocked bookstores where you are than I do?


  8. The Borders 30 minutes from my house is staying open; the Borders 45 minutes away that a decade or more back I’d go to as often as I could closed in January. Somehow I’d heard about the Joseph Beth closing before Christmas, but not the impending closing of Borders.

    I went there on Thursday and the store seemed to be doing more businesss than it had a few months back when its deadness prompted me to buy a hardback. Last week I didn’t find the book I’d come looking for, but, like you. left with The Yacoubian Building and A Novel Bookstore. And a Borges that I’m probably going to be too stupid for. Then I went home and ordered the book I needed online.


  9. Michelle

    Having lived in Switzerland now for almost six years, I barely remember what it feels like to go into a huge bookstore and browse and read. I have fond memories of doing this in Borders or Barnes and Noble, so in that sense I’m sad they are closing. I also liked how both stores tried to make a bookstore a place to hang out – with a café and chairs and tables. Reading is an important activity, it would be a shame if it became a completely solitary activity, meanign all buying done through the Internet and no actual community of readers ever getting together.


  10. I knew I married the right person when we spent an entire afternoon on our honeymoon, in Buenos Aires, lost in a bookstore in the middle of the city. We couldn’t find each other (no cell phones) and I kept peaking across the stacks periodically to see if I saw his handsome dark eyes and hair, but then something else would catch my eye (a book, of course). I always hate to see any bookstore closing, but it does seem the way things are going. (And we did find each other, eventually, and I took him home with me along with three new books.)


  11. It is sad, though generally I prefer a smaller indie bookstore for browsing. The large ones are overwhelming for me, and I also read a lot of blogs and order online. I do enjoy going to Indigo (Canadian chain) sometimes, though it was a better chain in its early days, before it merged with Chapters.


  12. I remember when the Borders in Stamford opened (circa 1993 or so), I thought it was a truly exciting place, and I went there all the time. They had a great selection and very knowledgeable staff. But then, I went into publishing and discovered how all those big box stores wanted to do nothing but close down all the indies, and then it seemed Borders began to go downhill (less selection. Less knowledgeable staff). I stopped shopping there until I had no choice (read “all my favorite indies had closed and then I moved to a place that had no indies at all”). I recently read a WSJ article that put a positive spin on this, basically saying that the way all these big box stores had overextended themselves and were going bankrupt might mean a new rise for “mom and pops” (and, yes, the article talked about book stores, not just stores like Circuit City). I’m hoping. Meanwhile, my Borders isn’t closing, so I went in over the weekend to buy a book to celebrate.


  13. Like you, I’m not really affected by Borders’ closing at this point. The Borders nearest my office is staying open, but I never went there much because the B&N by my house was more convenient and I couldn’t discern a big difference in the selection at the two stores. But I still feel bad that so many stores are closing and that some people will be forced to take all their book-shopping online.

    All of this does has me rethinking how I get most of my books. I’ve been relying so much on Bookmooch, etc., and I’m starting to feel that it’s just too much. I really miss going to the bookstore, picking something out, and reading it right then. We just got a new indie bookstore in Northern Virginia, and I hope it does well–until it opened I had to go into DC if I wanted to go to an indie bookstore for new books. There are also a couple of decent, but small used bookstores in right near me. I’m hoping to move away from my online sources and use these (plus my library) more.


  14. I have never shopped at Borders. I have only been in one once and found they didn’t have a very good selection and never returned. Of course it didn’t help that my husband worked for the competition. I don’t think it was people not shopping at Borders that hurt it as much as the bad corporate management from Borders’ parent company that did it in. There are three or four Borders in the Twin Cities that are closing. I don’t know if that is all of them or if there is a holdout in one of the suburbs. It is sad to see any bookstore close and I am sorry that people will be losing their jobs, but I can’t say that the closings will have any affect on my book shopping habits at all.


  15. Arti — well, I certainly hope bookstores never disappear, but who knows. I will do my best to keep supporting them in the meantime, and be grateful for my collection of books at home (and keep adding to it!).

    Steph — that is sad. I’ve heard, though, that sales are up at all the Borders, those that are closing and those that are staying open. People really do go crazy at word of a sale! But yeah, 20% off isn’t that great. It didn’t stop me from buying some books, though!

    Emily — you ARE lucky to have so many independent stores. I have them available, but I have to drive a ways — although I’m happy to take the train into NYC for the fun of looking at their stores any chance I get! Funny about knitting and how your buying habits changed. Once you get started collecting, it’s very hard to stop.

    Zhiv — I’ll bet the literary world of 2090 will be pretty unrecognizable — if we are even around then (my own dark road I don’t need to go down). My post from a while back about all the ways I collect books these days was trying to get at your point about how strange these times feel, times that are excellent for readers, but not so much for publishers and booksellers.

    Brandon — that Tampa bookstore sounds like a good one! You are lucky; I don’t think I ever found anything good in the remaindered section of my Borders.

    Litlove — yes, very strange. How interesting that you saw the same things we are seeing. People are just SO illogical sometimes, myself included 🙂

    Ann — I did like the cafes Borders and Barnes and Noble have; I just remembered that I had a book group meeting there once and I met my blogger friend Emily for the first time there. I do have good memories associated with that place.

    Susan — how funny that we bought two of the same books! They are both from Rohan Maitzen’s list for the Slaves of Golconda, I see now, which explains why they were on my mind. I’m glad your closest one is staying open. And I’m sure you’ll do fine with that Borges!

    Michelle — I agree completely; I love the sense of community you can sometimes feel at a good bookstore and the way people would go and spend hours and hours browsing and reading. Surely having bookshops as social centers would help them keep business and stay open? People do seem to like that.

    Melissa — funny story! Yep, that guy was a keeper! 🙂 What a nice memory. And yes, it’s sad to see any bookstore close, even if it wasn’t particularly good.

    Lilian — the best indie stores I can think of are quite small, but their selection is fabulous. I like to get my ideas for books from blogs and to get the books themselves from stores, when I can.

    Emily B. — I should have written about how I met you for the first time at that bookstore, and that’s where I met Becky too! Now I’m even sadder that it’s closing. I definitely hope that WSJ article is right and this will make it easier for smaller independent stores to do well. That would be wonderful!

    Teresa — I’ve become more conscious of where I buy my books lately, too. I need to shop at the two small stores in my town (mostly used but some new books) and make sure I only order from large chains, whether online or not, when I absolutely have to. I’ve been relying on Book Mooch a lot less and also ordering online a lot less. This reminds me, I need to get my local store to order a book for me!

    Stefanie — I’ve heard that too about how it was a management problem more than a sales problem. I can see why you wouldn’t shop at Borders given your husband’s job at the time! For me, it’s a matter of location, what is the best store that’s close. That was a Borders. But, actually, these days I tend to get my books on long road trips around New England, so I guess location doesn’t matter that much after all!


  16. I’m not sure how it happened, but our two Omaha stores are staying open. I am like you, though, Borders has never been my favorite. Although I am really sad to see them go it is sort of ironic that the very stores that put the indie bookshop where I worked for ten years out of business are now closing themselves! I prefer B&N over Borders (since that is just about the only choices I have here for new books), but at least they tended to have slightly different books they stocked. Lately though I don’t really read as many books that you find in a big box store–so at least superficially it might not affect me too much. (I do like the idea that this might give smaller bookstores a new chance, though!).


  17. Most of my new books come from online sources, but there is nothing better than spending an afternoon or evening wandering the aisles in a brick and mortar bookstore, discovering new titles and authors in person. Our closest Borders will remain open for now, though I expect it will close sooner rather than later because we just don’t have the population to support it. There is no competing B&N for miles. One of our local indies is also closing (Emerson’s). I have never gone in there because there is no selection of anything I wanted; I’m sad for the owners and customers and to admit that I won’t miss it.

    We have a fabulous indie bookstore in Madison and the owner sent out an email when the Borders & Emerson announcements were made, to meet with her customers over coffee and find out what it is they want/need so that the bookstore can remain open. They do lots and lots of programming that keeps drawing people in, and I think that is one of their secrets to success. They have a much better book selection than some of the smaller stores, and I also think that it’s the community here who deliberately supports all of our local shops. The shoreline has managed to keep out a lot of the big box stores, and I only hope they can keep that up. So many of our shopping plazas are half empty now, because the smaller shops can’t afford the rent. Interesting times, indeed.


  18. Like litlove I watched Borders close in the UK last year and, sadly, still miss it. It wasn’t that I bought huge numbers of books from there – our city is brimful of independents and secondhand stores, and I buy a lot online from the Book Depository – but I loved to go in there and browse in the evenings and at lunchtimes. Borders had long opening hours and was huge – three floors. And because of it the selection was very broad; it also carried a lot of US edition imports that are difficult to find in the UK otherwise. Whenever I was feeling stressed or restless, I’d walk out to Borders in the evening and disappear in the labyrinth of bookshelves.

    I know my experience isn’t typical, and I didn’t like other branches of Borders half so much as I liked my own one, but it was difficult to see it go. The sale eventually reduced books to 70% off, and I benefited from it like so many other shoppers, with a guilty stab each time I stood in the queue.


  19. In recent months I had noticed that I could never find the books I was looking for at Borders but still we went there a lot. For us it was more of an experience. Yes, we bought books and magazines but it was more about hanging out and I’m so going to miss Borders. Luckily we have a B&N close by but I liked having the choice. And, I think I’m especially bummed out about Borders because it was in the same shopping center as my yoga studio and Central Market so I could go to yoga, relax at the bookstore with a book and do a bit of grocery shopping all in one stop. Loved that.


  20. Danielle — I certainly hope this gives smaller bookstores a chance. Borders and B&N (but especially Borders, I think) put the indie bookstore I worked at briefly out of business (eight months before I went to grad school). It was sad. I found that to find the books I wanted to read at Borders was getting harder and harder once I stopped reading so many classics and wanted more Virago-type books and books in translation and from indie presses.

    Debby — I’m curious why some stores are closing and some aren’t; I am losing two Borders and you are keeping yours, but the population around me is much greater, I think. But perhaps there was too much competition. That’s interesting what your Madison store is doing; it makes a lot of sense, and I hope it works for them. I like that store very much, and I’m always hearing about programs they have going on.

    Victoria — how sad! I agree that Borders can make a great place to browse; I liked the atmosphere there and at B&N, and it always felt like a place I could happily spend a lot of time. Your Borders reminds me of my favorite B&N in NYC, which has four floors and an amazing selection of books. I don’t like buying from chains very much, but that store is kind of an exception, it’s so good.

    Iliana — that sounds like a nice tradition! I’m sorry yours is closing; that’s disappointing. I agree that it made a great place to hang out.


  21. Breeana P

    I absolutely agree, I think that all of us readers are feeling partially responsible for the closure of Borders. I also loved and even now enjoy going to the bookstore, but on-line ordering is of course, so much more convenient and you always can find what you’re looking for. I am fortunate to have 2 Borders relatively close to me, one is closing and one is remaining open. I will be thinking twice before I order on-line, we need our bookstores, no matter how big or small. The joy of just browsing through books at the book store for hours is something I look forward to doing forever!


  22. Jordan

    I agree that reading is certainly not dead, but it is not thriving either. I think that there could be more of a movement to help the habit of reading grow in our society.


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