I have mixed feelings about the end of Borders. I was a loyal, even enthusiastic customer when i first started shopping there many, many years ago. They were still independent and had only a handful of stores. For someone who used to making do at mall outlets like Waldenbooks, the first experience of Borders was almost overwhelming. The selection, the ambiance, the knowledgeable staff that loved books--- it was a marvel. I was hooked.
Come on, how many places have a newsstand that carries the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence? You have to love a place like that, right?
Even when Barnes and Noble came to town, i still preferred Borders. The inventory was vast at both places, but Borders still had a better shopping experience. Less noisy, maybe and they broke up the vast store space better. B&N felt a lot like a warehouse while Borders (at least the two i shopped at) managed to feel more intimate.
I found out what paradise smelled like when i visited the new Borders in Northbrook, Illinois for the frst time. Coffee shops inside the store was not yet common (I'm dating myself again) . As i walked through the store i came to a spot where it all came together. You caught a whiff of new books mixed with fresh brewed coffee. The aroma of fresh baked goods mixed with the aroma of newsprint and ink from the dozes of newspapers on the newsstand.
I moved and both companies were on the move as well. Charlotte has a Borders and a Barnes and Noble just a block apart. I was still basically loyal but something was changing. This store was not quite the same as the earlier ones up north. More space for best sellers, less commitment to backlists or serious, specialized subjects. Noisier. Fewer places to sit. The newsstand did not carry as wide a variety of titles.
Barnes and Noble wasn't decisively better, but now it did not seem to matter as much which place i shopped. Stuff like convenient parking mattered more.
And then, Amazon.com came along.
I was an enthusiastic early adopter. Convenience and selection that was unmatched. But i still liked going to bookstores and i kept going to and buying at Borders. At least for a while.
The final straw happened one Saturday morning. I was working a lot of hours at the time so having a couple of hours free to hit the bookstore was a treat. I was also traveling a lot so i bought a lot of books to read on planes, in airports, in my hotel rooms. I skipped the heavily discounted best-sellers and loaded up on books that went for full cover price or maybe a 10% discount. In retail that made me a high-value customer.
Anyway, that morning Borders had some sort of special concert for pre-schoolers going on. Lots of screaming kids. (I could live with that even if it did not make me happy). Even worse, the tots had brought their surly parents and loutish siblings. with them. The store was packed with customers who were mostly killing time while their kids sang along with some local Charlie Waffles. Killing time by shouting back forth between aisles, sitting on the floor between the shelves, arguing about where they would go next. Whining about being bored.
After about 10 minutes i left. It just wasn't the place or place to browse the shelves and grab a cup of coffee. Not when i could be at the Barnes and Noble in less than 10 minutes.
B&N was a relief. No concert. A book buying crowd. I ended up with my usual big bag of books.
I wasn't really mad at Borders. In fact, i even sent them a email to let them know that as a loyal customer i thought that they were losing their unique shopping experience. i got a canned response from some flak-catcher in the home office.
I went back a couple of more times but the decline was still underway. It was becoming a book-related store not a store for book lovers. More space for knick-nacks and (heavily discounted) best-sellers. More activities. Less interesting selection. Less inviting atmosphere.
I moved a couple of more times and ended up in places where the Barnes and Noble stores were far closer than the Borders. So i only have shopped them maybe twice in the last 10 years. I don't know if they got much worse, but i do know they did not get dramtically better. Hence, their bankruptcy was no surprise.
The commenters at Ace's joint are focused on the lefty vibe they detected among the sales staff and the poor customer service. I can say that i never had a problem with the staff's politics. I had no problem finding dozens of partisan books and never detected any disdain when i checked out.
Poor customer service was definitely a problem at the end. I don't blame the employees for that. The problem was their rapid expansion and the decision to compete with Amazon by going low-price/high volume. There just were not enough knowledgeable booklovers available to staff that number of stores. And the one's they did hire found that they were working at K-mart, not the world greatest bookstore.
In the end, Borders sacrificed their distinctive customer experience and tried to fight Amazon on price. That clearly was unsuccessful. Maybe nothing could have saved them (Amazon under Jeff Bezos is a formidable competitor.)
I just know that i miss the old Borders.