This is posting first thing in the morning on Wednesday, but that’s not when I’m writing it. I typically write these things the day before or earlier, and queue them up for the next day. So, at the time of this writing, I’m sitting in a Borders cafe, sipping a sugar free raspberry latte. No other chain of coffee shops or cafes I know of has sugar free raspberry. It’s just one of the many things I look forward to when shopping at Borders. Or looked forward to, anyhow.
Borders announced their closure yesterday. All their stores. 11,000 jobs going away in one fell swoop. One of the better chain bookstores melting away, and taking things like Waldenbooks with it.
The liquidation sales start Friday, but I’m glad we came down here today. There is a pall in the room — like someone had been hit by a car and no one’s had a chance to recover. The patrons look bereft, like they weren’t quite sure what they were going to do next. And the staff?
The staff are doing their jobs. But they’re not smiling today. The sense of cheer they’ve always brought to this particular Borders is absent today. In particular, the girl behind the cafe counter was downright angry. You see, they’re not going to have the cafe during the liquidation, so she’s going to be a straight bookseller. They close the cafe on Thursday, just in time for Friday’s markdowns — the official beginning of the end.
So I’m glad we came tonight — glad I have another shot at sugar free raspberry in a latte, since the next time we come down it’ll be gone. We bought a bottle of the syrup — easy to do, since it’s 75% off. The liquidation started early in the cafe. But it won’t be the same.
I want to ask “why,” but I already know the answer. I know the woes they’ve had, and I know how I’ve contributed. Oh, we’ve spent our share of money in Borders over the past year, but honestly if I want to buy a book at this point, I’ll get it on the Kindle. The Kindle means my bookshelf comes with me. I can read a Kindle book on my computer, then pick it up on my phone, then pick it up on my netbook later. Oh yeah, and even read it on my (by now outdated but still perfectly usable) Kindle. If I bought a Nook Color tomorrow, over at Barnes and Noble, I would install Kindle reader on that, as my friends have done.
But then, if I’m part of the problem, I’m not the whole thing. I looked today. I really did. I wanted to buy some books — buy it before the big sale, to make a statement about my loyalties. And yet, throughout all the different sections — graphic novels and science fiction and fantasy alike — there wasn’t anything I wanted.
It’s not that there aren’t books I want. There are. But they aren’t here.
And that’s the cruel truth of it. Borders, some years back, was famous for having something for everyone. I never walked into a Borders and then left empty handed. The last time I lived in Maine, Borders was worth taking a trip out to the Maine Mall area all by itself. Its staff was well versed and lively, its selection was broad and varied, its culture was pleasant, and its cafe rocked.
Now? Incapable of competing with the online selection of Amazon or even Barnes and Noble, they have gone further and further into ‘diversifying’ their stock, which has meant grabbing more and more current hits and bestsellers, and padding them out with boardgames and tchotchkes, as though to say “sure, you can get your books at Amazon. But can you get this umbrella? Or these gel pens?”
And of course, the answer is “yes. Yes of course I can.”
I sit in Borders and I feel badly, because there’s something about a physical bookstore that an online bookstore can’t replicate. The sense of browsing, the sense of camaraderie. And it’s not the first time I’ve felt this way. First, many of the Independent bookstores went. Now what was once the preeminent ‘big box’ bookstore is going. What’s next? Barnes and Noble? Longfellow Books in Portland? The various Annie’s Book Stop used bookstores that litter Route 1 in New England?
And how often will I feel that way about other kinds of stores? I was in Myriad Games on Saturday — an honest to God Friendly Local Gaming Store, with a broad depth of classic and modern RPGs, wargames, miniatures, dice, card games, plush Cthulhus and all the rest. How long before the last of those vanish? Or Jetpack Comics — one of the better comic book stores I’ve ever patronized. Will it be the next to shutter its doors?
Last week, I wrote about the harsh realities of comic book publishing. And those realities are harsh. But what happens to graphic novel compilations when there’s no graphic novel section to browse locally? And if no one knows about or is tempted by the graphic novel compilations of serialized comics, how much harder will it be to sell the individual comics?
We’re buying some plush, and I’ll take a hard look at the tchotchkes. And when the prices do begin to go down, I’ll look seriously at some of the hardcover comic strip compilations they have in stock. The complete Dick Tracy is a little out of my range today, as is the Flash Gordon compilation, but when it’s 20% off? Or 30% Or 75% The hardbound copy of Lost Girls by Moore and Gebbie will be snapped up at a huge discount by someone who’s quick enough as the price drops. And some of the books I’m not interested in at fifteen dollars will look mighty attractive at five.
And then it will end, and the store will become another empty building. And while I’ll be able to make a Sugar Free Raspberry latte for myself at home, it won’t be the same as going down to Borders, having it made fresh, sitting in an overstuffed chair and enjoying some reading.
It was inevitable. But it’s still a damn shame.