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Booksellers Feel the Pinch

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Well, shoot, it looks like the Borders near me are closing their doors.

Has a list of store closings been released? I didn't see any list in this morning's story on the bankruptcy -- only a mention that all store closings will be "superstores." I don't know what that means, exactly. I just want to know if the Borders in Fairfax is still going to be around.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Has a list of store closings been released? I didn't see any list in this morning's story on the bankruptcy -- only a mention that all store closings will be "superstores." I don't know what that means, exactly. I just want to know if the Borders in Fairfax is still going to be around.

There's a link in the AV Club article I referenced. It does look like they're (mostly) superstores, though I know a few are mall based Borders Express stores or Waldenbooks.

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I just found a map of store closings with this blog post. Looks like the Tysons Corner location is going away, but the Fairfax one is staying. Whew!

AND the location at 18th and L Streets in Northwest D.C. -- long a stop-off point when I worked in, and when I still visit, that area -- is biting the dust.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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And, it's happened: Borders declares bankruptcy.

They're closing a lot of stores. I'm thankful that the two stores I frequent (including the one that I worked for) aren't on the chopping block.

It looks like, at least locally, a store's chances of avoiding the gallows were directly related to whether there's a shiny new Barnes and Noble nearby. Both the Monroeville and South Hills Village stores are getting axed, and there are B&Ns within view of each of them. When I called Ali to tell her about the bankruptcy filing and the store closings, she immediately remembered the same thing I did upon hearing the news. I've probably not been to that South Hills Village store more than five or six times, but within the first year or so that we married and moved to Pittsburgh in 5/93, there was a newspaper article hyping the opening of that store as Pittsburgh's first big bookstore. We didn't drive much that first year, but we went down to the South Hills just to go to that store. With its strip mall location, lack of large open spaces and half-undergroundness, that store looks dumpy today, particularly in comparison to the B&N cafe joint close to it, but we were two English majors mesmerized by the sheer volume of books there and the idea of hanging around a store. Before that, I'd figured the "book superstore" experience was limited to people who lived in the largest cities.

I don't know whether this mode of bookselling can be saved, though I hope it can. I know the the act of browsing at a big chain bookstore is only a couple of decades old, so it's not like we're adding lights to Wrigley Park or anything. And I'm sure that online bookselling has a parry for every thrust I might make in favor of the big book box experience. amazon or the itunes store will come up with some rough equivalent for browsing shelves, and the sheer volume of selection will be way better. Yeah, I can see it. But like most of the other services that the internet has revolutionized, I suspect bookbuying will then become a solitary experience, and that's not such great news. We just took the girls to the Northway Borders last night to pick out books to read in the car during our trip, and there's a fun in that experience that transcends book-physicality fetishism. They made stacks of possible choices. Virginia fanned out a dozen or so books on the floor. I took the baby with me to give them a chance to make their selections in peace. We went to look at the 5 or 6 DVDs they have left, and I started tickling her and getting her to laugh pretty loudly. A middle-aged man who looked like he was trying to kill time followed her laugh to me and struck up a genial conversation that turned serious when he talked about his niece's baby, who seems not to be healthy. Later we saw and spoke to our across-the-street neighbor, who was sitting in the cafe. In Pittsburgh winters you can go a long time without talking to your neighbors. It almost makes me thankful for the drudgery of taking out the trash or walking the dog.

I suppose I'll be able to find other outlets for these sorts of welcome and unplanned human contacts. I'm aware that what I find pleasurable about this shopping experience may be a peculiarly suburban or modern American overcompensation for the erosion of real community in other contexts. Nevertheless, I would/will miss it.


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It looks like, at least locally, a store's chances of avoiding the gallows were directly related to whether there's a shiny new Barnes and Noble nearby. Both the Monroeville and South Hills Village stores are getting axed, and there are B&Ns within view of each of them. When I called Ali to tell her about the bankruptcy filing and the store closings, she immediately remembered the same thing I did upon hearing the news. I've probably not been to that South Hills Village store more than five or six times, but within the first year or so that we married and moved to Pittsburgh in 5/93, there was a newspaper article hyping the opening of that store as Pittsburgh's first big bookstore. We didn't drive much that first year, but we went down to the South Hills just to go to that store. With its strip mall location, lack of large open spaces and half-undergroundness, that store looks dumpy today, particularly in comparison to the B&N cafe joint close to it, but we were two English majors mesmerized by the sheer volume of books there and the idea of hanging around a store. Before that, I'd figured the "book superstore" experience was limited to people who lived in the largest cities.

I did a Pittsburgh mall tour after Christmas in 2009, visiting ones I'd never seen before (South Hills Village, Galleria, etc.), and I stopped at the South Hills Borders. I was honestly impressed. They had a fireplace, and I got my beloved, much-used chili cookbook there. Still, parking was a nightmare. No, worse than a nightmare...an Australian's nightmare. Good call on the B&Ns, though. The Borders Express at The Mall (at Robinson) got axed because of the B&N too.

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I did a Pittsburgh mall tour after Christmas in 2009, visiting ones I'd never seen before (South Hills Village, Galleria, etc.), and I stopped at the South Hills Borders. I was honestly impressed. They had a fireplace, and I got my beloved, much-used chili cookbook there. Still, parking was a nightmare. No, worse than a nightmare...an Australian's nightmare. Good call on the B&Ns, though. The Borders Express at The Mall (at Robinson) got axed because of the B&N too.

After I posted I saw that the East Liberty Borders got the axe, though, without there being any surrounding competition. Don't know if you've ever been to that part of the city, but this is going to leave a big hole in that attempt at urban-renewal-via-commercial-development. Plus, that brings to FOUR the total of failed big box bookstores in the city limits, when you add it to the closed downtown and Squirrel Hill B&Ns and the closed Joseph-Beth on the South Side (loved that place). With Jay's Bookstall also closed, I can't think of a single non-secondhand bookstore in the city. Not one.


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After I posted I saw that the East Liberty Borders got the axe, though, without there being any surrounding competition. Don't know if you've ever been to that part of the city, but this is going to leave a big hole in that attempt at urban-renewal-via-commercial-development. Plus, that brings to FOUR the total of failed big box bookstores in the city limits, when you add it to the closed downtown and Squirrel Hill B&Ns and the closed Joseph-Beth on the South Side (loved that place). With Jay's Bookstall also closed, I can't think of a single non-secondhand bookstore in the city. Not one.

Wait, Joseph Beth closed? Both that and Squirrel Hill B&N were in really good locations, too. Huh. I haven't been in the one in S'Liberty, but have been by it. It feels like a blow, really.

As far as non-secondhand stores, isn't there a genre-based store in Oakland? Mystery something something? I've heard anecdotal stats about how online retailers are actually helping smaller genre-focused stores. I hope that's the case.

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You might be thinking of the Mystery Lover's Bookstore in Oakmont, which is thriving because they've pursued a great grassroots business plan by bringing in authors frequently and cultivating a great community of fans and frequent patrons.

Jason, I'm surprised no one has yet chastised us for turning every thread into an excuse to talk about Pittsburgh.


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Jason, I'm surprised no one has yet chastised us for turning every thread into an excuse to talk about Pittsburgh.

I hate Ben Roethlisberger, who will probably try to write a book someday, even though he can barely speak.

We now return you to the discussion about the Death of Borders.

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I'm thrilled to see that my local Borders has been spared. It's the only place to buy books in my stretch of Suburbia and Farmville, and Joanna and I spend many a lazy evening there. I've already gotten in the habit of taking my 9-month-old daughter to the kids section and letting her take in all of the colors, sounds, and smells of books. That's such a geeky thing to say, I suppose, but some of my earliest and most vivid memories are of bookstores and libraries.

When the Vols beat Pitt a couple weeks ago, I won a bet with a Pittsburgh film writer named Andy Horbal. My prize was a copy of Annie Dillard's Pittsburgh-set memoir, An American Childhood. Had the Vols lost, I would've sent Andy a copy of Cormac McCarthy's great Knoxville novel, Suttree. And thus ends my only story that includes books and Pittsburgh.

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This column could go in the e-reader thread, but it's related to this discussion as well. It has me wondering, what, exactly, bookstores will look like in the future.

I know that this subject has come up here and elsewhere, but it's usually by way of dismissing the idea of bookstores altogether. Print is going away, so bookstores will go away. Who needs to go to a bricks-and-morter location to download an e-book?

I'm still not an e-reader guy, but I recognize the currents pulling book culture in that direction. Still, I wonder if the bookstore can/might survive in some form. Record stores didn't make the transition, but books ... maybe books can make the transition, providing a communal space for book lovers to gather, to read, to converse, sip coffee and tea, etc? I don't know.

Here's the relevant excerpt from the link:

There’s little doubt in my mind, indeed, that the demise of Borders is a good thing culturally and economically: e-readers promise to render literary “gatekeepers” largely obsolete, and within half a decade, will put just about every book ever written at everyone’s fingertips—many of them for free. In a decade, I fully expect that “bookstores” will consist of large format art books, e-reader service desks, and perhaps “publish on demand” machines that produce quick copies of e-reader titles.

Publishers like Assouline—which specialize in gorgeous limited-run books–may also make a go of it as “art dealers” to those who love the printed word.

What examples are there of book stores that are trying to evolve (successfully)? Are there any?


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Well, I think books have an inherent practicality and usefulness that records don't, and I think that's what will keep them around. Sure, e-readers will become more and more popular, and e-books will gradually take over, but books aren't going to go away entirely. What that means for book stores, I'm not sure. Perhaps we'll live in a world where only Barnes and Noble has survived, a last refuge of book lovers.

There have been some publishers that have been selling built-to-order books, with selectable covers. That may be a direction in which the future of publishing is headed. Rather than mass-produced editions, we have a world in which books are built according to individual order.

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Matt Continetti, from an e-mail newsletter I can't link to:

What's bad news for book lovers is actually good news for book buyers: The stores that are closing are all holding liquidation sales. As Caldwell notes, the Borders near our office is set to close this spring. Last Friday I went to see if I could find any bargains. As soon as I entered the store I felt like I was in Sarajevo circa 1995: It looked as though a bomb had gone off, strewing books in every direction. The periodicals section was a desiccated mess. The history section had been sacked by Visigoths. In current affairs I had to watch myself, lest I trip over copies of Donald Rumsfeld's memoir. In horror, the Stephen King paperbacks were scattered like corpses. Searching for books to buy, I felt as though I were looting a graveyard.

I remembered when I first visited a Borders. For a young person just becoming interested in the world of ideas, entering the massive store at Tyson's Corner, Va., was a revelation. Philosophy, art, history—it was all there. Over the years my nerd friends and I would go to Borders just to hang out. We would roam the shelves, talking about books and writers and pretending that we knew more than we actually did. (This skill would prove useful in the future!) It saddens me that there will be fewer opportunities for young people to learn about books in the same way. I buy a lot—a lot—of books on the Internet. The experience of browsing on the web just isn't the same.

Now, I applaud the efficient gales of creative destruction in the marketplace. But I feel skeptical toward the brave new world of the electronic book. The tension between change and stability is something you can't escape. No one ever said being an American conservative was easy.

I've been to the Borders close-out at the location of which he speaks. Everything was "clearance" priced at 20-40% off, although that increased last week to 25-50%, with most of the books on the low end, of course (2011 calendars were advertised at just $1, although I never found them amid the destructive mess within the store). The place was buzzing with more traffic than I ever remember seeing there, even during Borders' boom times -- and this was always a fairly busy store. The masses were scooping up books at 20% off as though they were 80% off.

I didn't see the appeal and left without spending a nickel, although a film magazine -- 40% off! -- tempted me for a few minutes.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I've received e-mails about some of the closing Pittsburgh stores on a daily basis, it seems. Having looted closing Borders stores before, I know how to hunt — wait 'til there is a week or less left and steal away with the few gems that are ignored in favor of the more popular stuff. When a local Borders Express closed two years ago, I managed to snag a few genuinely good novels at 75% off.

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I've gone to the store Borders is closing in Monroeville, PA a couple of times over the past couple of weeks to see if there was anything worth picking up, and it was similarly (1) busy and (2) picked over. The hilarious irony of the situation is that people are buying merchandise at discounts that aren't much better, if at all, than the discounts Borders regularly offered through their constant barrage of e-mail coupons. But there's something about the phrases STORE CLOSING! and EVERYTHING MUST GO! that brings out the buyer in us.


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D.C.-area residents nervously await the fate of Politics & Prose which is officially on the block.

Buyer found.

And, if it's not too inflammatory to mention, I liked Kelly Jane Torrance's description of the outcome:

Washington institution Politics and Prose has settled on a buyer. The owners of the bookstore insisted they would only sell to someone with whom they felt comfortable. That's turned out to be a Bethesda couple, both of whom worked for the Washington Post and various Democrats.

I wouldn't have expected anything else. :) And I say that as a fan of the store.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Traveling home today after a long weekend, I heard a top-of-the-hour news headline that Borders will close and liquidate the inventory of its stores. I am in mourning.

Just last week, I made a second and final trip to my local video store's liquidation sale. For $24.67, I acquired 10 DVDs and a many more VHS tapes ($0.25 each). That's on top of a visit a week or two earlier, when I bought about 6 or 7 other DVDs.

Now I'll be planning a visit or four to Borders' coming liquidation sale.

And then the store will close. And the Era of Hard Media will come to an unofficial close.

We all saw this coming, but not quite yet, right? I mean, there's still Barnes and Noble, which I've never liked but might find myself warming to soon. At least I got one year's worth of Borders Rewards discounts (I like to think I soaked 'em!). Just last weekend I was visiting with a member of my local city council, asking if a B&N might rent space in the downtown empty office space, and he replied, "We're just lucky to still have a Borders after the chain closed so many stores."

Yeah, we were lucky. Until we weren't.

So, there goes a bit of culture from my town. There goes a gathering place. There goes a very loosely knit community (book lovers, coffee lovers, bookstore lovers). Hey, maybe we'll get another bank or drug store in its place! Yeah, that'll be great.

I'll get over this eventually. I'll reorient, find new ways to connect with people and art and shared enthusiasms. I'll have some good memories. I'm just not sure when I'll get to a point where I'm squarely in a new era, looking back on the now-closing era as something distinctly in the past, and something that needed to go away.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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That was well-written and touching, Christian. I have a lot of thoughts and emotions running through me since I heard the announcement, so maybe I'll chime back in later. I worked for Borders for years and, even though I've been working in higher education for the past four years, I still see myself as a bookseller.

What's really frustrating me is that our county no longer has a bookstore.

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I'm gonna go to the store near my house tonight and buy a book for the beach. I plan to ask the cashier whether I can buy a Borders Rewards Plus membership. I think I'm finally ready to pony up.

I think Barnes and Noble will soldier on, largely because they expanded slower and moved quicker into their current business model, namely, the nominal bookstore that sells lots of toys and coffee. Borders tried to do that, too, but at the end of the day, what these superstores always had going for them was breadth of inventory, and it's tough to blame creditors for not wanting to extend them more rope.

Today's books and tomorrow's DVDs are just yesterday's LPs, right? The digitization of text and film will give lots of people an excuse to have less "stuff" around, which will shove everything already published or pressed into a secondary market that will be increasingly vibrant. Half-Price Books and its ilk will abide.


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What's really frustrating me is that our county no longer has a bookstore.

Dude, the City of Pittsburgh no longer has a non-secondhand bookstore within its limits, unless you count university student bookstores.


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Dude, the City of Pittsburgh no longer has a non-secondhand bookstore within its limits, unless you count university student bookstores.

I think there are a few B&Ns still lingering in places like South Hills and the Robinson area. (Lingering might be the wrong word, since they're still hopping.)

Your point about second-hand places is spot-on too. I went to Half Price Books this past Saturday (I'm sure Russ knows which one), and the place was PACKED.

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Knoxville will be reduced to a single Barnes & Noble and a Books-a-Million -- this for a metro area of around 500,000. I'll now have a 20-minute drive to find a store with a book selection greater than Target's. My daughter's only 15 months old, but we'd already made a habit of visiting Borders, playing in the children's section, and picking out one book to take home. I really hate that we're losing that.

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I'm gonna go to the store near my house tonight and buy a book for the beach. I plan to ask the cashier whether I can buy a Borders Rewards Plus membership. I think I'm finally ready to pony up.

I work(soon to be past tense) at a Borders down here in Arlington, TX. I found out we were closing yesterday when the manager called me back from the register and told me take down all BR+ cards, literature, and gift cards. As sad as it is, work has actually been quite nice since the hammer fell. There's a large sense of relief now that there's nothing looming overhead. Now my last two jobs have been made obsolete by technology: I moved down here after I lost my job as a projectionist when we went completely digital, now I've lost my job as a bookseller when everyone else went digital. I'm 24 and looking and early onset curmudgeonitis.

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