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In memoriam: Borders Books 1971-2011

September 8th, 2011

Borders was the place to be. So what happened?

I’ll never forget the first time I went to a Borders bookstore. It was the Borders located in Westlake. At that time, there was absolutely nothing else out there. Cleveland was still a relatively bustling city and our family did most of our shopping there. Places like Tower City and the Galleria at Erieview defined a vibrant downtown. Westlake, meanwhile, was a suburban wilderness, still in the process of being developed and settled. Crocker Park didn’t exist.

Therefore, going to Borders was an adventure, almost a mini-vacation. I remember the trip being a really cool, new experience. My sister bought our family’s first movie guide on that trip and my dad bought a book about the ongoing war in Yugoslavia.

Last month, 16 years later, I returned to that same bookstore. Only this time, the walls were adorned with signs reading “Store Closing Sale!” and “Everything Must Go!” The bookshelves lay half-empty and the coffee shop, where a friend of mine once worked, had all but disappeared.

Local celeb Dick Goddard was supposed to do a book signing there. However, he probably canceled upon hearing the news. Borders was closing. Everywhere. For good.

When I first heard this, It was sad but not surprising. The news was sad because I missed the experience of going to Borders, picking up the latest book on Russian history or literature, buying a cup of coffee, and just hanging out at the coffee shop.

The news was not surprising because I knew that Borders was in decline – and I knew that I and many other Borders patrons were partially to blame. For after I read enough of that book at the coffee shop, I would jot down the name on a napkin, leave the book on the table, go home, and purchase the book online via Amazon.com for $10 less or cheaper.

For years, Borders was losing to online booksellers like Amazon as well as second-hand booksellers like Half-Price Books. The fact that they were behind on the eBook craze did not help. Throw in a bad economy and, well, it’s recipe for disaster.

Looking around at Borders now, I was struck by a terrible irony. The sale, touted by many to be “40 percent off” was actually “up to 40 percent off.” In other words, they were selling a lot of books at only 10-20 percent off. For example, a book I found in the history section on Stalin cost $23. With 20 perscent off, the price dropped to about $18 plus the additional sales tax. Meanwhile, I could buy the same book cheaper on Amazon.com for only $12 (shipping included). Needless to say, I didn’t buy the book at Borders.

In the end, I left feeling as though Borders hadn’t really learned anything. Still, it all seemed somewhat sad. It was as if someone had torn away the façade of Borders and exposed the store for what it really was – a casualty of a changing society.