Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Eulogy For Borders: Thanks For The Memories, Sorry For Not Contributing More

Yesterday I spent an hour poking through the carrion like a hungry vulture at a Borders store liquidating its inventory. What was once a nice, calming place to read the latest magazines, fire up one's laptop in the cafe using the free wifi, and even occasionally buy a book, was now a mass of moderately organized, half-emptied bookshelves, encircled by a snaking line of people waiting to purchase their discounted loot.

The liquidation discount, at this early stage, wasn't even that great, either--currently only 10% off on most items, with 20% off graphic novels (I picked up Kirkman's Ultimate Invincible Collection book 1)--but that didn't stop hordes of other vultures just like me from picking at the wreckage. I am quite sure the few staff members, re-assigned to the cash registers rather than staffing the floor, were thinking to themselves, "if y'all had come last week, we wouldn't be in liquidation." But register queues not seen since the kindle was introduced were a strange sight for a Borders, as were even other people occupying the same aisle at the same time (I mean, that doesn't even happen all that often at my local Ralph's grocery store). So it was weird.

I like to read, but honestly trips to Borders became more and more infrequent and rarely if ever for a purchase. The kids section would have been one of the places that might have made sense for me--kids' birthday parties are unrelenting and I'd always rather give a book than a toy they might not like or clothes I know they would hate)--but every childrens book was always so obviously read by others, it was like buying a used book.

And the cafe was closed, the tables missing. Sme people were sitting in the corner on the floor with their laptops, still using the free wifi services. But it was a sorry sight to see the former eating area as barren as an empty dance floor.

All the activity at the store was from the scavengers. And it made me think, who ever used Borders the way their revenue model hoped it would be used?

In fact, I can think of only five distinct times I really "used" Borders, and they all reflect lack of contribution to their revenue model:

  • 1. I love perusing magazines, I'm a total magazine junkie. I remember spending rainy Sunday mornings with my then-girlfriend-now-wife at the Borders on the corner of Union Square in San Francisco, drinking coffees as we sifted through stacks of periodicals that we ultimately didn't purchase, come to think of it. The coffee was usually pretty good, but I don't think we ever left having purchased more than the coffees, and an occasional scone.
  • 2. There was this evening when my wife-once-girlfriend and I randomly stumbled into the Borders on La Cienega (south of 3rd Street), and sat down in the cafe to listen to the featured singer, John Hoskinson. He sounded a lot like Crowded House and had this great track called "I Hope I Die Before You Do" that was cute. We ended up buying his CD Miscellaneous Heathen, which was great and all, though in retrospect I suppose none of that money went to Borders, either.
  • 3. I sometimes would sneak away from work at lunch and sort of lose myself in the aisles of a nearby Borders. Sometimes I would just read graphic novels and lose track of time. Often, I'd even forget about eating lunch.
  • 4. Once a good friend of mine was verbally slighted by this woman we both knew at a party we had attended. It wasn't a big deal; everyone was inebriated, we were all young, and she basically said something that one could interpret as an insult to his hometown (he grew up in Kansas and had moved out to California). I think the offending comment in particular went something like, "Well, no wonder why you like San Francisco so much, since you grew up in Kansas.". Whatever. But my friend was pretty pissed, and his revenge was to go with me to the Borders the next day and take out reader service and subscription blow-in cards from almost every magazine on the shelves. This girl then ended up "subscribing" to everything from Modern Bride to Body Art to Road and Track to Out to Foreign Affairs--you get the picture. We never saw that girl again so I never found out if his vengeful scheme worked. It was juvenile, I know (we were young), but at the time it was pretty funny.
  • 5. Then there was that time when my brother and I were driving and his intestinal tract was aboiut to explode. So we stopped at the nearby Borders and he ran into destroy their loo, while I flipped through the puzzle books. I think he felt bad at the wreckage he left behind, so he might have bought a coffee on the way out.

I guess you could say that while I remembered Borders being there and being part of my universe, it wasn't there as a destination, let alone as a bookstore. It was more like a truck stop on a hiway, a temporary diversion and place to stretch out for a bit rather than a merchant of goods. I still bought books, but I confess that I like the idea of books more than books themselves sometimes. There just isn't enough time to read them or room to store them, not at the rate I can consume content..

I thought about all of this as I waited in the queue yesterday (about half of my total time in the store was spent in the checkout queue). But I didn't feel all that guilty; rather, I just felt resigned to the practical realities of the situation. It's true that I might find myself missing Borders (there's still Barnes and Noble, even if their beautiful store that I frequented at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, sadly, doesn't exist anymore). But I don't think I will give up utilizing my Amazon Prime account for books and some music, since it's a superior interface, more convenient, better economical medium. I suppose that even though I went to mass at Borders sometimes, when the offering plate came down the aisle, I didn't give much if at all. Maybe I should be feeling more guilty, I thought to myself, having contributed to the demise of this bookstore chain.

And then I bought $200 worth of discounted books and walked out, not looking back.

15 comments:

Dusty Baker said...

Foreign Affairs subscription - that is the ultimate revenge.

Dusty Baker said...

" I confess that I like the idea of books more than books themselves sometimes."

That hits so close to home for me; I'm the same way. I have the desire, the intellectual curiosity...but not the time and, even if I do find the time, the motivation isn't there. Oh, I keep buying books. But they just sit on my shelf - physical or reading device. I mostly read in bulk when I'm on the plane or in a hotel room, now that I think about it.

Steve Sax said...

I'm with you, Dusty. And part of the reason why I consume of magazines so much is I can read them while working out as well as on planes (after which I leave them in the seat pocket).

Dusty Baker said...

@Sax

So YOU'RE the one who always leaves the Art Doll Quarterly in the seat pocket?

Neeebs said...

I guess I'm the dinosaur here. I frequent Borders on a bi-weekly basis. I always have a book that I'm reading and one on deck. I don't watch TV, except for sports and news. So the death of Borders is a sad event. B&N somehow isn't the same.

Steve Sax said...

@Dusty: when did they switch from bi-monthly?

@Neeebs: seriously, what is the difference between borders and barnes and noble? They're the same to me, except the latter is still open at the grove

Mr. LA Sports Czar said...

I always went to the Borders in Sherman Oaks, but just to poke around. Then it closed a few months ago.

Dusty Baker said...

MLASC single-handedly destroyed booksellers' business model!

Fernie V said...

It is sad to see it go. We never had one in my town, but while visiting friends or catching a Dodger game I always found myself in one. It is funny we never bought many books and I can name probably all the books I bought at Borders. I just hope b&n makes it long enough so my boys can experience and remember a book store.

Neeebs said...

@Sax: For some reason, the display sections at B&N are not so interesting in my hood. I always ended up finding something while browsing at the Borders display sections. Maybe I was their target demographic. Remember, RBN and I are old.

Spank said...

I like nasty books.

Fred's Brim said...

@Spank, you like nasty everything!

Fred's Brim said...

I only go to the big book store places to buy stuff at Christmas, and back in the day, to kill time looking at CDs and listening to what's hot in da streetz on the listening stations. The $18 CDs were a big turnoff

Fred's Brim said...

@Dusty 9:10 well aren't you going to say "thank you"? So rude....

Mr. Customer said...

I'm with Neeebs. I've always got multiple books in play. Having an e-reader has been nice, budget-wise, but it will never replace the comfort of ink and paper.