Monday, February 14, 2011


Eureka, California's Bayshore Mall has a Borders.  It's one of the mall's anchor stores.  Fifteen hours ago the Wall Street Journal reported that a bankruptcy filing could come within days.  It is predicted that many stores will close soon with more to follow later. 

I'm a fan of bookstores both franchise and independently owned.  The idea of any of them going under gives me a slight sense of dread.  Besides the lost jobs, there is the fact that for many these large chains are the only places to buy books.  Sure, you can get them at Target or Wal-Mart, but try finding a copy of Cannibal Killers there.  You won't.  The Borders disaster is just one more nail in the coffin, though I doubt physical books will disappear in my lifetime.  Access to them, however, will be harder to come by.

Many, but not all, independent bookstore owners are excited about the prospect of Borders going under.  The truth is, however, that bookstores both large and small act as feeder stores for the the other.  If you can't find what you are looking for in one store, you go to the other ... and usually end up seeing something else you want, too.  What the independents do better, though, is know their audience.  Borders tried to be all things to everyone (coffee!  CDs!  DVDs!), while the independents focused on books.  It's a good business plan, as I'm sure Borders is now kicking itself over.

If Borders goes out of business it won't save independent bookstores from themselves.  Instead, it will probably fuel online sales at places like Amazon.  The people who shop only at Borders and not their local independent bookstore do so for a reason.  Borders' closing will most likely only serve to drive those consumers online, and the independent bookstore will never see their business.

I'm usually very excited when a large franchise goes out of business.  (My fingers are still crossed over Blockbuster.)  Bookstores are the exception to that.  I have my complaints about Borders, but they are minor compared to the loss to the Eureka book-loving community.  We still would have plenty of local stores to shop at (many of them specialize strictly in used books, however), but when it comes to books, choice should be the rule and not the exception.  Large franchises and independents operating together offers that.  Take either away from the equation and the real loss is felt at the consumer level.

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