When Borders opened its cavernous store in our community some 14 years ago,
I was even more conflicted. I hated what would predictably happen to our local
bookshops and, sure enough, most of them died slow and financially painful deaths.
On the other hand, it was a wonderful new experience to plop down in a bookstore
and actually read a chapter or two without feeling guilty.
Our Borders was as box-like as a big-box could be. It wasn't even in a mall;
it was at the edge of town in a retail development that contained a half-dozen
mega-stores and a few fast-food shops. It was part of the sprawl that is wrecking
But there were so many books! Plus, newspapers and magazines, DVDs and CDs
- and a coffee shop where local authors gave lectures and music groups performed.
It seemed to be the type of place that would help preserve books and periodicals,
not contribute to their demise.
Borders was always a poorly managed business. It was plagued by supply problems,
causing key titles to be missing for many days. It was slow to adapt to new technology
- both online and with e-books. It had an awful "rewards" program that
provided little value to loyal customers.
Yet, the more than 600 Borders stores were havens. I recall rushing into the
Providence, R.I., store when I needed a book about birds, with lots of color
pictures, for the seven-year-old son of a friend I was visiting. They had a dozen
from which to choose, and free gift-wrapping.
I remember spending part of an afternoon at the branch in Scottsdale, Ariz.,
when the temperature outside was over 100. I perused dozens of out-of-town newspapers,
enjoyed the air conditioning, and purchased a book for my wife about identifying
In San Francisco, I used to visit the Borders store across the street from
AT&T Park while waiting for a Giants game. I'd go to the big branch just
off Union Square and sit at a wooden table on the second floor reading parts
of several books that seemed interesting, but weren't quite worth owning.
Now, it's all disappearing. And no matter what the digital future holds in
delivering books via electronic devices, losing Borders can't be a good thing.
Beyond the 10,700 remaining staffers who are about to join the growing ranks
of unemployed; beyond the wreckage of local bookshops that couldn't hang on during
Borders' meteoric rise, and beyond the blight of shuttered Borders' venues across
the map, the fabric of society is being ripped a bit more.
As I said, Borders was not a well-run company, so perhaps the following bit
of prose was crafted by a highly paid publicist rather than a lover of literature.
Regardless, here's what it says on the about-to-be-closed Borders website:
"We are passionate about the importance of literacy and knowledge to
our culture; dedicated to the extraordinary power of books - those who write
them, read them, collect them, look after them, treasure them."
Last fall, as it came clear that Borders was struggling, I wrote in The Wall
Street Journal that the crumbling of some big-box operations might actually create
an opportunity for small, locally operated bookstores. I theorized that with
the bulk of business shifting to online merchants and electronic reading devices,
there would still be a niche for stores where you could hold a book in your hands
while sipping coffee, listening to music, and savoring the experience in a way
that Amazon and Kindle simply can't provide.
I hope I was right. As badly as I felt when Borders first came to town, today
I feel even worse that it's leaving.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.