Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Borders Closing- and the guilt that comes with

Yesterday, on my way to get groceries, my foot involuntarily stepped on the brakes as I passed our local Borders bookstore and saw the ugly yellow sign draped atop the entrance: Store Closing. I mentioned this to my mother who told me that the Borders near my parent's home, where I worked  as a struggling college student, is also closing its doors. I knew Borders was struggling, but had no idea how bad it was- that they filed for bankruptcy and are now closing 200 stores.

Agents and publishers have long urged us to not forget about brick and mortar stores- but with the advent of online shopping and e-readers, its been clear for a while that bookstores are being affected. While I do sometimes purchase a book from a brick-n-mortar bookstore, when I'm not getting my books from the library, most of my literary purchases? They're on-line. It's just cheaper. A lot cheaper. Clearly, I wasn't the only one thinking this way as the mass closings make clear but now, with the announcement of these closings, I can't help but wonder: Should I have paid $5-7 more for a book to support the chain? As a member of a single-income household, the honest answer is no. Not really. That's money for my kid's future. Dinner. Shoes.

So the sadness mixed with guilt has no easy answer for me. I wish I could have bought more books, drank more coffee and done my part to keep my local Borders in business because it fills me with sadness- the book signings that won't happen, the emptying stands once filled with books you could touch and rifle through and the end of Tuesday story time that my son loved attending and which lent a sense of community in an increasingly isolated world.

Border's bankruptcy is the beginning of the end of something huge- so big in fact, that as a writer, I'm fairly certain I don't understand its full scope, which is exactly why, regardless of my justifications- the closings make me feel guilty for what I could have done and what is now, at least for my local Borders, much ado much too late.


  1. I saw a closing sign by border's store here in Norfolk, VA yesterday and i also went through similar emotions. Border's bankruptcy, just like Blockbuster's bankruptcy, reminds me of a book i read a while back called "The Long Tail" (http://www.longtail.com/about.html).

    Its sad to see these brick and mortar stores close but i think they are simply not evolving their business model fast enough to meet consumer demands. I know closing of borders will increase the unemployment rate in some areas but it is also creating jobs elsewhere. More digital books means there will be more IT job openings for people like me, who are designing data warehouses and software and hardware architectures for companies like Amazon to accommodate their growing digital media demands. Sure we have more invisible deadly killer waves in the air from people trying to download these books, but we are also saving a lot of trees and reducing the pollution that results from the manufacturing of these books. Some of this pollution may be shifting towards the manufacturing of e-readers but a single e-reader can hold thousands of books so its not an equivalent shift. And as you mentioned, that extra cash also helps us buy and read more books so we can better educate our kids :) So all-in-all i look at the closing of border's stores as a good sign and something that is inevitable. I don't know though, perhaps i am being too optimistic?

  2. Hi Naveed! [Is this the newlywed Naveed whose wedding I recently had the pleasure of attending??] Thanks for sharing your unique perspective on this- I had not looked at it in that way- you make very valid points- in a similar vein when many things like packaging and filling of materials became mechanized and ousted many from jobs- people lamented it but it too was the sign of the times [and I had NEVER thought about deadly killer waves in the air from downloading things- as I write these words just before hitting the bed I can only imagine the strange dreams that I will now have!] ;)

  3. Dear Aisha:

    I totally agree that the future of bookstores is at stake. But, I don't care that much about megastores like Borders.

    I'm way more concerned about independent, neighborhood bookstores like Bird & Beckett near my home in SF. These bookstores are rooted in the communities they are in, & offer a wonderful place to browse, dream, and yes, buy books. Not as cheap as Amazon, but I try to make a point to buy a few books there every month in support.

    Where else can I find benefit nights for various community members/orgs, books signings by hyperlocal authors, free jazz nights that welcome kids, a deeply knowledgeable staff, a political book group made up of my neighbors, and so much more?

    Pick two independent businesses in your city and try to support them a few times a month. For other times, there's Amazon :)


    PS - Love the new site! :)

  4. The one closet to us is closing as well from what I heard from a neighbor. I feel guilty too. Most of my books are borrowed from the library.

    I'm sad for the industry, as a reader, and as a writer. It will affect us in many ways, I'm sure. It isn't just e-books/kindles/nooks/Amazon though --- the economy is tough. Food or books, hard choice, but I usually pick food, (especially when I can still have books for free from the library.)

    I remember when I worked for Crown books. Those closed down too. I can't walk into a bookstore without remembering that.

  5. Baraka, thats such a good point- and one I've seen mentioned other places, that at first the megachains were detested for destroying the small bookstores and now they are themselves finding ends. Still, because locally we don't have independents as far as I can see- I mourn the loss of this mega-chain- but still you do raise a good point. I know at least two independent stores not too far away- it might be worth my while to make at least one of my purchases through them once in a while whenever I am buying books [which thanks to the library is not THAT often].

    Tracy, like you said, as a single family income household myself- if I'm choosing between a free book at the library versus paying for the same book I'd rather get it for free and use the saved money on groceries or something else we need in the house- and while its easy to justify it- its still sad when you see the stores closing :( Never heard of Crown books. Interesting to know we both worked at book stores:)

  6. You're right - the library is an amazing resource & we use it all the time! :)

    But for those times when we want to own the book or the wait is interminably long on a book, we pop over to Bird & Beckett before heading to Amazon.

    Independent bookstores may not be as prolific in Atlanta as they are in Portland & SF, but they exist :)

    Also, I meant any independent business. We have a family-owned creperie & hardware store downstairs that we try to go to a couple of times a month too, even if the purchases are small.

    Can't wait to browse some books with you when you visit! :)


  7. Baraka- Ah yes, I also try to go to independents in general- I eschew the starbucks lately for a local place near us independently operated. Good point!

    I eagerly await seeing you again insh'Allah! :) Thanks for the link to the independent book store link! We browsed in little Five when you came, if you recall, I bought "The garden of truth" there- one of my favorites!

  8. I have no sympathy to borders. Once I was big fan of Borders but after 9/11 they were in forefront to display anti-islamic books in their store.

    I may cry though if Barnes N Nobles close down!!!!

  9. Mystic- I didn't know that- was it all Borders, or the local ones where you are? That's horrible!

  10. Hi, Aisha. We have at least one Borders closing in town too. This has already been touched on, but I remember when B&N and Borders first became BIG, and there was major outcry against these megastores for making the existence of independent bookstores even more tenuous. And, while most people seemed to agree that we should save our independent bookstores, this didn't seem to stop them from buying less expensive books at these megastores. The same is true with the giant online provider now. As much as I love to go to a brick and mortar bookstore to browse, I still buy most of my books online. I went to Borders a few weeks ago to pick up my newest book club book, but I left without it, because it was $25 there and $15 online. That's hard to justify.

    This said, I think that an even bigger battle is just now brewing; that between print books and e-readers. Talk about a paradigm shift, and one that it hurts my heart to even think about.

  11. Raising- it is so weird isn't it? To see the way we now mourn the passing of the very institution that once caused the downfall of beloved independents far and near- and yes- the ereader debate- don't even get me started- as someone aspiring to get published- that is very scary indeed.

  12. The 1970 movie Quackser Fortune is with Gene Wilder playing the part of the fellow who "earns his living collecting manure and selling it as fertilizer." He loses that job when horses are banned from Dublin (for the car).

    Even though we get a lot of new benefits, as we continue to recreate ourselves, we always have a lot of goodbyes to say. I also mourned the loss of most of the independents and now feel bad about Borders. What will be worse is if I have to read books electronically because I love turning the pages of a hard copy book. :~)