I remember what life was like in the western suburbs of Cuyahoga County before Borders moved in.  At the time we had only one bookstore within a ten mile radius.  That shopworn independent had been there for years.  The inside was, at best, disheveled; the stock was low, and the people behind the counter never wanted to chat. 

There was also that “little room” in the back where children weren’t welcome. All I took away from reluctant trips to the store was a memory of that “little room,” which I dusted off years later and used as a plot point in Blessed is the Busybody.  Hey, who wants to leave a bookstore empty-handed?

Then,  just three miles away, Borders moved in.  Big, beautiful, bold Borders Books. 

Fairyland.

I remember the first time I walked inside my brand new store.  There were books everywhere.  Sales personnel who’d been selected and trained to find just the right books for every customer.  Music, coffee, comfortable places to sit while I decided which books to buy.

I remember the first author book signing I did there.  The CRM (Community Relations Manager) was a fabulous guy who adored books, theater and making a splash.  My book, a romance, was set in Scotland.  Jonathan had a bagpiper stand by the door and pipe readers inside.  Be still my heart. 

My Borders store was always filled with quiet music, with readings and fabulous entertainment.  It was also packed with customers.  Once I looked up to see every single space at the front counter manned by a clerk, at least eight of them, with lines of six or more at each register, and everybody’s arms overflowing with books.

The decline of my Borders was subtle.  First events were cut, then community relations managers were given pink slips.  My store was no longer a happening  place.   Staff was cut to the bone.  Signings were no longer promoted with enthusiasm.  No one seemed to know where books had been stored or how to set up a table when it was my turn to sign.  The booksellers who were left were overworked, harried and underpaid.  Naturally, enthusiasm dwindled.  Borders was saving money, I was told.  I wondered for what.

Now Borders is closing.  With it, go so many booklovers.  The employees who hung in there, worked and cared about their jobs.  The readers who went back time and time again to buy books, even when the magic began to die.  The authors who now have one less venue for their work. 

The analysts will point to this and that as the problem.  I’m sure they’re right.  Bad decisions about Internet marketing. Competition. Rapid expansion. A scary economy. The list goes on. 

There’s no question this is a difficult time to sell anything.  But I wonder.  Had corporate left their board rooms, had they been there the night my store was filled with music and customers toting armloads of books, if they’d sat down for a latte and a long, look at what was happening when creative, enthusiastic people ran the show, might they have made better decisions?  Might they have hired more CRMs?  Hired and trained more, not fewer, booklovers as staff?  Turned up the music and let the joy continue?

I guess we’ll never know.

7 Comments

  1. MaryAnn on July 22, 2011 at 8:28 am

    We don’t have a Border’s or any major bookstore nearby, but we do have a small Christian book and gift shop. It has been in existence for around 60 years between two owners, but I fear when the current owner, who is in his 60’s, can no longer continue with it we will lose it. It is just so difficult for the small independent store.

  2. Dee W on July 22, 2011 at 10:40 am

    They maybe overworked and harried, but closing the store is heart wrenching. I know. You have to say Goodbye to the people you’ve come to feel are friends. And the books. They and their authors are a part of your life and it’s like tearing out your heart.

  3. carolyn mirabella on July 22, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I was sorry to see first Waldenbooks go as we had one very close—spent a lot of money there. lol
    Then came Borders 25 miles away–again spent a lot of money
    Now they are gone. I’ve also been told the Barnes and Noble is gone from a nearby Pittsburg [45 miles[ is gone

    hoping the books a million stays nearby

  4. Kay Myhrman-Toso on July 22, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Emilie, this is a beautifully written eulogy: I’m simply sorry you had to write it. I’ve seen more than one institution/business either go under or change so dramatically as to be unrecognizable. At these junctures I wonder if the folks in the board rooms or the bean counters with their spread sheets have vision beyond fiscal. Obviously businesses have to make a profit, but perhaps decisions only based on profit are equally doomed in the long run. Yes indeed, what about joy?

  5. sandy haber on July 23, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    What a nice tribute to Borders. As a former employee, as well as a librarian, I bought way too much there — but even tho I can easily get to a B&N, I still preferred Borders. I stopped in there today to see what I could buy and didn’t leave empty-handed, and wished all my former co-workers — those who were still there, that is; many have already been let go over the past year — good luck. Borders, I may not have bought as much as some over the past year but I will miss you.

  6. Sue in Ohio on July 26, 2011 at 5:58 am

    I’m sorry to see the last book store in my area close. There were times I bought the whole series by an author. Then I would pass on those books to my daughters, who passed them on to others. Ordering books online isn’t the same as leafing through pages, reading a bit here and there. Sitting in Borders I could relax among old and new friends that are tucked away amongst those paper pages.

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