Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bye-bye Borders

I guess I won’t bother to shred my Borders Reward Card --- there aren’t going be any book stores left and therefore no rewards either for me or for whatever scofflaw might manage to swipe it. That’s too bad.

The bankrupt Michigan-based chain announced this week that after failing to find a buyer it will liquidate its remaining 399 stores, putting more than 10,000 employees out of work.

I began shopping Borders at its first central Iowa location in West Des Moines, a few blocks east of its final West Des Moines location just off University Avenue in Water Tower Place, and followed when it moved to the “super store.” That store, part of an earlier round of liquidation, closed at the end of May.

Just a few years ago, the chain opened a smaller but satisfying store along South Duff in Ames and my principal loyalty shifted there. Now that store will close, too.

Borders always made me happier than Barnes & Noble for some reason and I’ve never had much to do with that chain’s competing super store, farther west along University in West Des Moines.

During the many years that I drove back and forth weekly between Chariton and Mason City, I almost always stopped at one Borders or the other. I’d be afraid (and am too lazy) to figure out how many thousands of dollars I’ve invested there in books, some CDs, some DVDs.

I still have all those books, CDs and DVDs, however, and reread, relisten or rewatch regularly, so the investment was a pretty good one. Too bad about the retailer, however.

The experts say the chain made some fairly dumb business decisions --- failing to react fast enough to changing trends, hiring CEOs who knew nothing about the book trade, etc. In other words, it shot itself in the foot.

One thing I did notice, especially about the West Des Moines store, as years passed, was the declining variety of titles and the expanding scope of DVD and CD offerings --- one mistake cited by those interested in figuring out why the chain failed.

I always checked the “architecture” shelves --- until it became evident new titles weren’t being stocked. In the beginning, Borders had the best section devoted to LGBT concerns, gay lit if you like. That collection diminished to practically nothing, too. The same decline happened in the several subsections devoted in one way or another to “nature,” another area where I shopped regularly --- field guides, classics from such authors as Edward Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams, Iowa’s own Aldo Leopold and many more plus the latest offerings related to ecology and the environment.

Borders still had the best selection of best-sellers, which I generally don’t buy but enjoy looking at, and new releases in many categories. And all those magazines.

Like I said, driving south to Chariton on Sundays, I almost always took a swing off the Interstate into Ames or made the loop around to West Des Moines and came away with a book or two, perhaps a DVD, came home and dived right in.

In all that time, I never had a bad experience with a Borders staffer --- as tends to be the case in deals like this, they’re the big losers.

When I stopped making that weekly drive, I didn’t exactly stop buying books --- but switched for the most part to the Internet. I don’t shop much and an 80-mile round trip to and from Des Moines to buy a book or two is a bit much. If I need a book store fix, I run up to the Book Vault, an excellent independent in Oskaloosa.

A principal contention made during the National Main Street Conference in Des Moines during May was that retail emphasis is shifting away from “big-box” and related malls --- and to multi-use, sustainable and more intimate development, town centers and main streets. We’ll see about that. If so, I hope independent book stores are part of the mix.

Another thing I noticed while spending quality time in downtown Des Moines, is that The Book Store, perhaps the city's oldest independent, is still flourishing and now has outlived most of the smaller mall bookstores and big boy Borders. It survives by knowing its customer base and working hard to serve it --- a useful lesson there.

Iowa is a rich plum again on the weather maps this morning, signaling an excessive heat warning. Yesterday’s official high here was 99, but the time-and-temperature signs varied from 102 to 105. Whatever, the case, it’s hot --- and no immediate relief is in sight.

It’s too hot to do much work outside, unless you’ve got to, but everything drinks water faster. This is my morning to water the big planters at the church --- and I’d better go do that before it starts heating up.

1 comment:

Ed said...

I guess at the end of the day, I'm not shedding any tears over the demise of Borders or even Barnes & Noble if it gives up the ghost too. Like you said, both of them quit catering to book readers long ago and instead focused on music, coffee shops (didn't see that listed in your post), magazines, etc. If I went there for a book, unless it was a new release, they rarely had it. It seemed like no matter how huge they built their stores, my genre of interest, non-fiction, was contained to one or possibly two shelves out of hundreds. I used to stop by at the Borders in West Des Moines but never made a special trip. It just wasn't worth it.