“In light of the ongoing impact of the difficult economy of the past few years, and the rapidly changing retailing environment for books and related products, it is essential that Borders restructure itself to reposition its business to be viable and successful over the long term.
To that end, we have determined the best route to undertake the necessary reorganization of our business is through the filing of a petition for reorganizational relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.”
Thus began the email I received a few days ago from the Borders Group, Inc. Borders has declared bankruptcy. That sucks. Their email news release went on to reassure customers that for the time being, all Borders stores are operating normally, with the minor caveat that underperforming stores will be shut down in a few weeks. What the email failed to mention is that pretty much ALL of their existing stores are “underperforming”.
Of the seven stores in the state that I know about, only one has thus far avoided the headsman’s axe. I was surprised that even the Borders in my hometown, (Southbury, CT) was being shut down. Businesses tend to last in Southbury. Example. They still have a KMart open. When was the last time you saw a KMart? If you’re thinking 2002, you’re probably right.
Is this imporant news? To Border’s (former) employees it is. I stopped by Southbury’s Borders store earlier today, partially to say goodbye to a retail institution I was proud to share my hometown with, and partially to take advantage of the clearance prices on everything left in the store. What can I say, I appreciate a good bargain.
The brief conversation I had with the woman at the checkout counter as she rang out my stack of plunder was a painful experience. She literally had tears in her eyes as she said goodbye to some regular customers. The other employee’s I could see were equally emotional, most of them moving as if in a daze, as they haphazardly posted 40% off signs and restocked their shelves from a a rapidly dwindling supply, moving without their customary smiles and friendly greetings as they side-stepped the vultures like myself who were picking away the remaining flesh from the store’s exposed bones . These were not just retail employees put off by the inconvenience of losing a part time job. These people care. They have a deep, abiding love of literature, and treat their holy product with the reverence that all good books deserve. When the corporate suits came in a few days ago with their bad news, they were caught unawares. There was one universal question in every face I saw. What am I going to do now?
I asked one employee, well bro, what comes next? His response: I don’t know man…I think I might pull a Max, and move West. Maybe Boulder?
You know what? I think he might do it too. As for the rest of the people losing their livelihood with the store closing, who knows what they might do? They aren’t socially awkward enough, or physically malformed enough to find work in a library. (Have you ever noticed that no matter where you go, library employees are freaks? check next time. You’ll see. Someone should do a study about that.) Alternate bookstores are few and far between. Waldenbooks died years ago. Barnes and Noble clings to life by the skin of its teeth. Private or specialty bookstores are rarer than unicorns, and should be treasured as such. These people have led a blessed life, surrounded by the power and magic of the written word, and they now have nowhere to go.
More importantly however, this sucks for ME. I live to write stories. I want those stories published. It is a deep, abiding goal of mine to see my work in print, up on a bookstore shelf. Nothing I can think of would be more fulfilling, or make me prouder, and yet, my job becomes harder every day, and my goal more unattainable because BOOKSTORES ARE GOING EXTINCT.
A savvy writer can evolve with the times, earning a living working on online publications and producing work in formats suitable for e-readers, but a world without actual, physical bookstores is a world with less magic in it.
That world makes me sad.