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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Borders Revisited: Lights Are Still Out


Legendary TV actor Andy Griffith passed away yesterday, July 3rd, and was buried later the same day – just five hours after he was pronounced dead. Fans barely had a chance to mourn and reflect back on his life before he was laid to rest.

Not so with Borders, the defunct bookstore chain. We have had too much time to mourn its passing. It has been over a year since the last store closed and yet I still feel raw over its passing.

I came across a Borders graveyard the same day Andy Griffith died. It was on Second Avenue and 32nd Street in Manhattan. I was on my way to Kips Bay Theatre to take in a stupid but hilarious movie – Ted – about a talking teddy bear who is best friends with a 35-year-old man who still acts like he is eight years old at times.

The theater happened to be packed. The July 4 holiday rush was upon us and it seemed everyone was seeing a movie. The opening day of Spiderman caused long lines but the spill-off extended to other movies. Yet, next door, stood the dark, vacant, and lonely reminder that a book-reading community used to live there. Thousands of square feet of prime real estate lays empty well over a year since Borders shuttered.

You don’t see too many empty storefronts in central Manhattan, though the Great Recession certainly has yielded more wasted spaces than I have ever seen. Having Borders go under does not help. The spaces are huge.

The windows of this store are covered in brown paper, like wrapping paper for a gift, only this is the opposite of a present. It is blight. One window panel was covered by wood, as if preparing for a hurricane. But the storm has come and the book chain did not weather it so well. The red-letter lights spelling BORDERS remained off, instead reflecting a dulled moonlight. The doors had metal chains and padlocks wrapped around the handles. It felt like a condemned building.

I just stood outside the massive space, staring as the rotting tombstone, as if expecting it to turn into something else, something alive. It didn’t.

I mourn the fact that the book world lost so many stores while so few others have opened up since Borders collapsed. The world needs more bookstores and more readers. They seem to go hand in hand.

Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble, without any serious bookstore competition, still loses ground. Its in-store sales are down 4% from a year ago, but its digital sales are up nearly 39%. All told, the company’s gross sales are up about 1.8% from a year ago.

I envision stores opening up that give a home to the content-reading community. They may look something like a Barnes & Noble but maybe the stores are smaller and additional items are sold.  We need to do whatever it takes to avoid another Borders from happening.

The lights are still out for Borders and it leaves all of us in the dark.
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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