It’s just a matter of time before there are no more Borders to visit, so while running a bunch of other errands on Saturday, I decided to take in the latest going out of business sale at one of the three stores that were in town. I didn’t venture to Borders #1 downtown because of the Art Fair hoopla, though I am sure I will find a way to get down there before it’s closed up for good. Instead, I visited the one out by Ann Arbor-Saline Road.
I suppose like most people in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area, I have mixed feelings about the end of Borders.
When Annette and I were in our PhD programs at Bowling Green State, we came up to Ann Arbor a couple times a year to go to the U of M library, see the sights, get lost, and spend way too much money on books. We always hit Shaman Drum, the many great used stores, and the flagship store of the then relatively small chain book store (according to this timeline piece, Borders was 21 stores in 1992). Though if we could buy a book at either Shaman Drum or a used store instead of Borders, we would.
It’s odd that the only book stores open in downtown Ann Arbor nowadays are used ones, comic stores, or mystery shops.
Anyway, I don’t like to see anyone lose their jobs nor do I like to see book stores close, even big box ones, especially ones with such important local ties. Borders used to support a lot of Ann Arbor/Ypsi causes. They will be missed. That said, I am sure that there are many owners and patrons of small and local book stores experiencing more than a little Schadenfreude at all this given that it was Borders’ big box stores and rapid expansion that drove a lot of those places out of business a few years ago.
I freely admit that I’m a good example of a consumer that help push Borders over the cliff. As I blogged about here back in 2009, shopping for books online at amazon.com et al is just too convenient and cheap, and, as I wrote about in that post, the store had become kind of a pain in the ass. You couldn’t get any help, they didn’t have a huge stock (especially of things that are more academic and/or not pop writing), and their prices were terrible. I guess I would be willing to put up with some of those problems to shop local, but not for the would be Starbucks of book stores, even if it was based in Ann Arbor.
Anyway, back to the going out of business sale visit on Saturday:
The store I visited was one of the “concept” stores Borders opened in 2008, which I blogged about back here then. The short version of that post: it was clear then that they didn’t know what they hell they were doing when it came to the whole “eReader” and “internets” thing, and in hindsight, that store was as dumb as a bag of rocks. On Saturday, there were more people there than I had pretty much ever seen at a Borders or any other book store, certainly there to make good on the “up to 40%” discount on books. The only problem was very few books were actually discounted much at all. The place can’t even go out of business right. I’ll wait until the end is near and/or the prices really do drop below amazon.
I’m no business person or retail expert, but it seems to me that it is possible to run a book store and make a modest amount of money at it– not a big giant chain (though Barnes and Noble seem to be doing okay) and not a tremendous amount of money, but some. I buy books mostly online and increasingly electronic books ala kindle, but I still hold out hope that there is a place for book stores– or at least places that sell books, music, coffee and food, have events, etc. It’s not possible to replicate the value of the place of book stores. So my hope is that maybe clearing out one of the big box retailers will allow some smaller book entrepreneur to come in?