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Sad, if Predictable

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My favorite of the soulless corporate bookstore chains will be closing up shop.

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  • rea

    Back in ’75, when I was an Okie boy arriving in the big city of Ann Arbor for law school, there was a great little indy book store in town called “Borders” . . .

    • Paul Campos

      As an undergrad I spent many happy hours browsing there. For the 10,000 people who just lost their jobs this story will not evoke nostalgic memories . . .

  • Doug M.

    I never had much patience for the people who whined about Borders and Barnes & Noble killing off “the independent small bookstore”. The big chains gave better selection and better pricing in a pleasant if bland setting. And people are going to miss the hell out of them once they’re gone.

    Doug M.

    • People also miss the bookstores they killed off.

      • Malaclypse

        I once worked for one of the larger independent bookstores in Harvard Square, back in 2000. At one planning meeting, people were cursing Amazon, as the handwriting was on the wall even then. Someone said how, when our store opened, there were 15 independents in the Square, and now there were only three.

        The head of AP, who had been a bookseller since like forever, then said, yes, and of the twelve that went under, only three went under after Amazon. We killed the other nine, and we were happy at our increased sales when they went under.

        Also, I remember my suburban youth, when the only bookstore was a crappy WaldenBooks in the mall.

        The point of my rambling stories is that the golden age of independent bookstores was a very brief time. And if my choice is Amazon or that crappy WaldenBooks, I’ll take Amazon.

        But I still miss WordsWorth.

        • Davis X. Machina

          Loved Wordsworth, too. Curious George is closing now, my daughter tells me.

          (Actually, the Square went to hell when Elsie’s closed.)

          • Anonymous

            This re: Harvard Square (don’t forget the Tasty, Mug and Muffin, and the Wursthaus).

            I think my generation (I’m 45) must have been the perfect age to have enjoyed (and perhaps naturalized the existence of) the great independent bookstores.

            I grew up in Berkeley. Cody’s in existence throughout my childhood. Late in highschool (or perhaps early in college) Black Oak showed up. They’re both gone now, of course.

            I loved the great independent bookstores (WordsWorth was great…but not quite as great as Cody’s). Nothing soulless about any of these places, either.

            But I certainly won’t miss the megachains. They were better by far than Waldenbooks, of course. And when I moved from Columbia, Missouri to Norman, Oklahoma in 1998, the fact that both Borders and B&N had set up shop helped make Norman, in at least this one way, better than Columbia.

            But over the years I did more and more purchasing online and less and less in the bookstores. However good the selection was at B&N and Borders, it was better online. And the soulessness of the megachains really made them dramatically less attractive as places to shop or hangout. Far easier just to “hang out” at Amazon.com.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              Whoops! This “Anonymous” is, in fact, me.

            • Richard

              Codys. Best book store ever. I remember when it opened. But its been closed for years now and its old location on Telegraph is still vacant.

          • efgoldman

            The owner of WordsWorth was a high school friend and classmate (Brookline High, 1963).
            The Coop at least is still there, although since I moved to RI ten years ago it could have given up book and music sales altogether, for all I know.

            • Malaclypse

              The owner of WordsWorth was a high school friend and classmate (Brookline High, 1963).

              To the extent they remember me, it is not fondly. I worked there long enough to get them both very angry with me, then quit.

              And in response to Davis, it sounds like Curious George is now gone as well.

        • Ben F

          Question: of the good bookstores in Cambridge/Boston that are still around, which ones would you recommend? I’ll be traveling there next week for the first time.

      • Ed

        Borders and Barnes & Noble brought a wide selection of books and the opportunity to browse and hang out to many communities where independent bookstores didn’t exist and the only bookstores were the mall stores like B. Dalton and Waldenbooks. Both of those local ones have shut down and the only place in the area to go to look at actual books is the mall and one little store that specializes in recycling romance novels.

        The Borders in particular was a nice store with a quality selection, and once all the music stores had been killed off it was the only place to browse for and buy music, also the only place that had an extensive collection of magazines and quarterlies, etc. Now there’s nothing.

        Yes, Borders management was dumb.

        • Bill Murray

          This is true, except in most small towns the only place to hang out and read books now is the library

          • Ed

            Suburban areas, too, where there are lots of malls but no bookstores of any kind. In fact, the first non mall store in the area where I grew up was a Crown Books, and we were pleased to have it. Back then, of course, Crown was the favored punching bag. It’s fine to look down your nose at the big chains when you have a good independent nearby, but not everyone did/does. Online shopping is great and I’m glad it’s there but it’s not the same.

    • Bobby Thomson

      On the plus side, Borders required its hires to know something about books, at least at one point.

      On the negative side, Borders slanted Republican in its donations, especially compared to Base and Ignoble.

      I know my local booksellers. It’s worth paying a little extra to support them and prevent the Wal-Marts of the world from crushing them.

  • For anyone who’s been watching Borders over the last decade, was the outcome ever in doubt? Books are for reading; bookstores are for nostalgia.

  • efgoldman

    I really enjoyed browsing a bookstore (or a music store).
    Of course, I’m the Designated Old Fart.(tm)
    People used to give me gift certificates to Borders or Barnes & Noble or Tower, and I had a grand time browsing for an hour and making my choices.
    I recognize that the on-line stores are cheaper, with way larger selections. But sitll, i miss browsing…

    • The pleasure of browsing is the joy of serendipity. Card catalogs have that quality too.

    • JMP

      That’s why this makes me sad; Amazon’s fine if you want a specific books, but it’s impossible to browse there. Well we’ve still got one bookstore chain left; for now at least.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        I actually disagree about this. Amazon actually does allow browsing, albeit of a fairly inefficent sort.

        These days one can actually look at the texts of many books online. And with some you can download a sample to your Kindle app.

        And you can follow suggestions for other books given by reviewers and Amazon itself.

        This is obviously different from the physical act of browsing in a bookstore…but it’s browing nonetheless. And I’ll often go to Amazon intending to buy one book and end up buying another.

        And if Amazon ever improved its hideously archaic search engine, it might even be better than browsing in all but the very best bookstores.

        • Bill Murray

          you must browse differently than I do

        • JMP

          The suggestions on Amazon suck, are nothing like actually browsing a shelf in a genre you enjoy. And I will never own a Kindle unless they actually do kill real books and I’m forced to.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            But the selections in most B&N and Borders suck/sucked, too. So the genre-based shelf–a wonderful technology that is missing from Amazon.com–in these stores doesn’t provide me with a very satisfying browsing experience..

            Amazon is not at all the same as browsing in a book store. And it’s a lot worse than a good book store.

            But it’s better than a bad bookstore. And most Borders were — and most B&Ns are — bad bookstores, however large their footprints might be.

            • Ed

              I have to respectfully disagree about Borders. Over time the selection in the local B&N did decline, but the until the bitter end the Borders had a very good collection. It was a good bookstore. RIP.

  • mark f

    people who whined about Borders and Barnes & Noble killing off “the independent small bookstore” . . . are going to miss the hell out of [the big box stores] once they’re gone.

    Especially since the alternatives have mysteriously disappeared!

    Liquidation sales are usually a rip-off, but I hit the local Border’s on its last day and snagged five or six paperbacks for about $15. Most of the selection was crap, obviously, but I did manage to find some good stuff with little effort.

  • Larkspur

    Remember that photo posted online somewhere, not too long ago, during the first wave of Borders closures? It was a notice posted on a Borders door: “No Restrooms. Try Amazon”.

    Amazon is an excellent resource that I try not to use. I am lucky in that I have a very good independent bookstore in my neighborhood, and when I buy there, I pay sales tax and I know that some of that and the purchase price stays in my community.

    But mostly I am lucky because we have a good library system with inter-library loans.

    • witless chum

      Yeah. On the rare occasions I actually buy books rather than getting them from the library, I try to do so at the local bookstore. Which has an annoying location and a giant, fluffy cat. But is better than driving to mall-land to go to Barnes and Noble.

      • mark f

        If you live where I live that place just closed, leaving with B&N only. Does “annoying location” = “across the street from the library”?

  • Murc

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong on this, but this actually seems kind of like rank laziness to me.

    Despite brick and mortar bookstores no longer having the SAME viability they did during their big expansion years, it still seems like Borders was a going concern. They had literally hundreds of stores still producing more revenue than they incurred cost and a well-established brand name, and there are STILL tons of people who love to walk into a bookstore and browse and buy.

    A company with a viable business model that enters bankruptcy ought to EMERGE from bankruptcy as a viable concern gonig forward, right? I mean, that’s how its supposed to work? It kinda seems like the people at the top, who have NO stake at all in the company, just decided ‘Fuck it. This mess we created is way too hard to work out, and we don’t want to baby a company through a long and slow rebuild. Let’s burn it to the ground and all move on to our next jobs.’

    I’m actually kind of annoyed. I live in a place where there are three major shopping districts within convenient driving or walking distance. One of them I watched grow over the course of my life from an isolated one-corridor mall established over the county line for tax reasons into an enormous megamall with like two or three outlying bix-box stores, movie theatres, and strip stores around it.

    NONE of those shopping districts will have a bookstore in it after Borders goes down. As little as a decade ago all of them had MULTIPLE bookstores. The only convenient places to buy books now are the Barnes and Nobles that are all on the other side of the city.

    • Richard

      They tried to sell it for several years. There were absolutely no bidders. If it was profitable or had the chance of profitability, there would have been bidders.

      I am going to miss it a lot (although all but one of the Borders stores within 25 miles of my house already closed earlier this year).

      • NonyNony

        This is not true – they HAD a bidder who was willing to buy it but the folks that Borders still owe money to felt that they would get MORE money out of an outright liquidation than they would from selling the company.

        Borders problem is that they were stupid. They had stupid management that expanded to fast and they had stupid management who didn’t understand that internet sales were going to be a major thing. Borders for YEARS had an internet storefront that was just Amazon.com with Borders branding on it – they were paying Amazon to run their internet sales business at least as late as 2002 IIRC. That’s just plain STUPID. Then they were late to the ebook game. But they kept fucking expanding physical stores even as they were ignoring the digital side. When the economy hit the skids their expansion shell game ended and it turned out that they owed a lot of money.

        I feel bad for the employees at Borders and I’m going to miss the local one. But the ultimate story of Borders is that MANAGEMENT WAS STUPID AND SHORTSIGHTED. It isn’t that brick-and-mortar bookstores are dead – they can still do just fine so long as they don’t have stupid management playing shell games to push up short term share prices.

        • Murc

          Yeah, that was my impression.

          People have been overselling online sales forever. Do they cannibalize existing storefronts? To be sure. Will they ever eliminate them? Hell no. People LOVE shopping.

          There’s absolutely a place in the world for brick and mortar bookstores to make a profit. There may not be a place for four or five national chains anymore, but there was sure as hell space for TWO.

          Gonna be Barnes and Noble from here on out. To be fair, my local B&N is absolutly amazing. It’s also half an hour away.

          • Bill Murray

            How is Powell’s doing?

        • Richard

          Who was the bidder and was their plan to keep most of the stores open? And wouldn’t the bidder still have been there even after Borders filed for bankruptcy? From the news reports I read, there were no bidders in bankruptcy.

  • Joe

    Ah well. First a favorite branch of the store closes down and now this.

    Various sources of book are appreciated in various ways. The local library is a wonder. Amazon is too, including the ability to get old books for cheap and looking “inside” many books or get a sense of the books from reviews (midlevel reviews tend to be particularly useful). Downloading books has its values.

    And, bookstores too — chains and independents. Barnes and Nobles will still serve this function in my area, but I will miss the Borders I stopped by (and got cheap calendars yearly in late January) repeatedly. I’m sorry also for all the people who lost their jobs. But, such is the way of the world. If it was a matter of bad management, that is how things work, I guess.

  • wengler

    Everything that Borders did can now be done electronically.

    If you want a good area to browse, read and generally enjoy somewhat of a commons, then go to and support your local library. Librarians have been a pesky bunch against Republican laws, so there is no doubt that libraries will be next on the chopping block. They will need your support to survive.

    • Everything that Borders did can now be done electronically.

      If you want a good area to browse

      Okay, NO, everything that Borders did cannot now be done electronically.

    • Ed

      Libraries are already on the chopping block. The ones in my location have been suffering for years. The Borders provided a more current selection (and often a wider one, especially where magazines were concerned) with a much pleasanter ambiance for browsing and reading, and the cafe was always full. I had an elderly neighbor who would go there during heat waves to cool off. Much nicer than the grocery store and he could sit and read. I don’t understand why the online experience is more soulful, but it could be me.

    • Joe

      Your average library doesn’t have the same selection, size, place to have a coffee/snack and so forth as Borders. You also can’t buy the books there. Also, they have select hours. Few are open on Sundays or as late as Borders. Finally, different locations.

      Libraries are great. Bookstores have their own charms. As do other sources of books.

  • Matt T.

    Here in the French Quarter, there are four pretty nifty indie bookstores within walking distance, though because of my own particular personality quirks, I do most of my impulse book buying via online sites. However, Borders was something of a godsend when I lived in Athens, GA. For whatever reason, indie bookstores can’t survive in that hipster college town – a friend of mine closed shop on his effort a few months ago after a very discouraging year of trying – and the one indie store that perseveres is an absolute pain if you’re actually looking for something specific.

    As I grow older and more hermit-like, I don’t do near the browsing I once did and the NOLA library system still hasn’t recovered from Katrina (which should surprise no one familiar with New Orleans city government), but I do have fond memories of wandering around Borders for hours and not buying a damn thing. Nice way to kill an evening.

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