This Friday, Borders will begin liquidating its 400 remaining stores and then close for good. It’s a painful reminder that bankruptcy isn’t always a get out of jail free card for corporations. There are many reasons why this happened–years of bad decision making that drove the company into the red where it couldn’t afford to innovate as the publishing industry went digital, a harsh economic environment, and so on and so forth–but what really concerns me is that the spring from which all Borders stores sprung is closing in my hometown Ann Arbor. If you haven’t been to the mothership Borders, which is right around the corner from the location the Borders brothers founded the bookstore chain 40 years ago, you really should go. Problem is, you only have days left.
I will be visiting the original Borders, my childhood neighborhood bookstore, this Friday as the sales begin, during the Ann Arbor Art Fairs. The idea of the original Borders, which anchors the most expensive real estate in Ann Arbor, going away is really unthinkable to me, but I want to see if I can pull some of the little remaining literature or poetry or reference books out of the wreckage before the store closes. This is the place I went to browse for foreign language books and poetry when I was an English major and Russian minor at the University of Michigan. Only 8 years ago when I was in school Borders was still pulling a profit and still stocked the shelves with a wide variety of quality books you could discover by quietly browsing for hours on end.
Then the CEO changed, the merchandizing changed, the company began to slide more and more quickly into the abyss as it ignored e-readers and sold its soul to Amazon to fulfill online book sales (a decision that is being credited as the catalyst for the company’s downfall). Now all you see even on a good day is political and chick lit bestsellers packing tables up front, young adult bestsellers packing the shelves behind that, bestselling literature packing the shelves in the back, and so on in the Christian fiction section, poetry, sci-fi, and on upstairs to the cookbooks and music. They still sell rows of CDs, by the way. What is wrong with booksellers? This is not 1995, which is about the last time I purchased a CD at all, back when Tower Records was still a viable company. Nevertheless, the original Borders store is the best one out there, so I hope you’ll join me in trying to discover some final gems amid the wreckage this Friday. After that they sell the bookshelves and lighting, and the lights wink out on Borders for good. I need a drink.