[NOTE: Borders announced on July 18, five months to the day after I wrote this piece, that it was unable to find a buyer and was closing all of its stores and liquidating its stock. In an email three days later to Borders Rewards members, CEO Mike Edwards in “A Fond Farewell” said the firm was unable to overcome “headwinds . . . including a rapidly changing book industry, the E-reader revolution and a turbulent economy.” Going out of business sales were to run July22-31.]
I ventured into Borders at the upscale Biltmore mall yesterday afternoon in Phoenix. It was a day after the bookseller, Borders Group, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the place already had the hollow ring of death to it. This store, No. 54 and the largest Borders in Arizona, will close the last of April along with about 200 of the chain’s other behemoths. The cafe on the second floor was to serve its last coffee and pastry later that night, a clerk said.
I shed not a tear, for Borders was a predator, a mercenary, an unwieldy corporation that swept into town during the early 1990s and killed off smaller, high-quality and locally-owned shops along pricey East Camelback Road. Stores like Houle’s at Uptown Plaza and particularly Dushoff’s at the corner of 32nd Street. Not to say I didn’t patronize the Biltmore Borders. I did. It was virtually the only game in town.
This was once a lively store. Even as late as last Christmas, you had to stand in a long serpentine line for 10 minutes or more to make a purchase from one of a half-dozen cashiers. Nebra and I often spent Saturday night in the cafe with our coffees and teas and pastry, poring over books and maps. That is if we could find a place to sit. We even planned a few of our trips there. Some weekends there was entertainment. I remember a jazz combo playing with the local radio host Blaze Lantana as the emcee. And although I never attended one, there used to be book signings by authors, some of them even famous. But now it was so-long, it’s been good to know you
I had been a part of the store’s undoing. My book-buying habits began to change about a decade ago.
Change came not long after I purchased a fancy PC and an AOL account in 1998. I soon discovered shopping online was cheaper and quicker than trying to find parking space at the Biltmore and browsing the Borders vast inventory. It was even enjoyable shopping online. And if I was going to shop corporate, why not with Amazon? Although I still spent good money at Borders, it became less and less over the years. Later after I began to collect first editions, another discovery popped up online, Advanced Book Exchange. And last Christmas I received an e-reader, a Nook, from Nebra. The Nook is OK, but I love the feel of a real book in my hands and sight of a colorful dust jacket. I suspect that wherever the physical book industry goes from here, I will tag along.
At Borders, the “Going Out of Business” signs had not yet gone up on the large display windows. But the vultures were swooping in. The company hired to liquidate the stock was in place, a skeleton crew that communicated largely by head phones and treated patrons indifferently. A few customers wandered about and occasionally one made a purchase from the sole cashier. The old employees were gone. Off to another job, or perhaps to join the unemployment lines. I feel bad about that but nothing else.
Soon there will be no new-book seller in central Phoenix. The giant Bookstar, west a few blocks from the Biltmore in Town & Country mall, closed a month ago.
Store 54 was still breathing when I left but with a soul as dead as can be.
I wondered if something good might not come of all this. Maybe those small, locally-owned book stores will return in some fashion. Big is not always best. In fact it is seldom best.