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.
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.