Readers without Borders

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.


I never thought I’d say this, but I dearly miss our local Borders bookstore.

To be honest, I treated it badly while it was there. If I had the time, I’d drive the 20 minutes to Politics & Prose rather than walk the four blocks from my house to Borders. But sometimes I held my nose and went in.

Borders’ poor business model was apparent immediately upon entering the store, where stacks of overstocked books teetered: Sarah Palin’s memoir (this is Montgomery County, a hotbed of liberalism), the umpteenth celebrity cupcake cookbook and, oh, dear god, Heaven is for Real. Then there were the long shelves of coffee-table books the size of coffee tables—which inevitably made me think of Kramer’s The Coffee Table Book of Coffee Tables—laden with beautiful tomes discounted down to a price that probably didn’t even cover the printing of the dust jacket.

But what really set off alarm bells was the plethora of non-book items that took up more and more space, crowding out the books. The going-out-of-business sale offered mountains of plush stuffed animals, baby blankets (huh?), and cheapo electronic toys.

Borders had lost its way, a sad end for a chain that began as a single, noble bookshop in the scholarly town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, done in by Amazon and its own success.

Which is crazy. On the one hand, here is a company that expanded into a worldwide phenomenon. But it became a behemoth beholden to its stockholders, whose relentless demands for ever-increasing profits meant that, like a marshmallow in the microwave, it grew until it exploded. In the end, they had all that space, all that inventory, but no vision for the future. The stockholders panicked.

In the meantime, those same stockholders (well, maybe not the exact same ones) snapped up Amazon stock, which has risen by 35% since last year and is listed at $356.18 as I type this (as compared to $38.18 for Microsoft and $97.90 for McDonald’s). All this despite the fact that Amazon has posted losses for all but one quarter over the last year.

Apparently, the new mantra is “If you don’t build it, they will come.”

But what do I know? I’m a bookworm, not a titan of industry. All I know is I miss being able to wander into a bookstore at will. Despite its faults, Borders did carry, among its jumble of merchandise, books. I could pop in, check out the latest bestsellers, lose myself in reverie in the travel section, pick up an emergency gift for the booklovers in my life, and search the acknowledgment pages in the fiction section for agents and editors who might like my work.

So, RIP Borders. You weren’t the best bookstore, but at least you were there for me.

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