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  • Lance Mannion
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I assume you're describing here the Borders at the Carousel Center in Syracuse. That was an odd store, always seemed to me like it was shoehorned into a space in the mall that wasn't originally intended to have a store that size in it, complete (at first) with its own entrance from outside (but that's gone away, I'm told, with the current expansion). The shape of that retail space made from some very odd shelving arrangements in the store; I recall the F&SF section having two parts, one that included a right-angle turn around a corner and then another shelf that went off at a 45-degree tangent. Very strange. And the kids' section was placed in the upper level right inside the entrance from the mall, presumably so families walking by would see be dragged in by their kids who had spotted the bright colors.

The two Borders I've frequented in Buffalo were much nicer, as they were stand-alone buildings. I loved going to both, and in truth, I've always found myself feeling more "at home" in a Borders than at a B&N; my experience has generally been that the likelihood of having a clerk know something about books at Borders was higher than at B&N. But my sample size is pretty small, and in general, impressions of retail chains tend to be formed on small sample sizes, don't they?

One of my favorite bookstore-clerk interactions ever happened in a Borders. I was in there with my daughter when she was just two. I bought her some age-appropriate kids book, and I got myself a collection of HP Lovecraft. The clerk holds up the Lovecraft book and says, "Oh, you read your kid the COOL bedtime stories!" That was great. Nothing like that has ever happened for me at B&N. But then, nothing like that's happened at Borders in years, either.

The one thing I always notice about Borders cafes is that there aren't many power outlets. This tends to discourage folks like me who want to set up for long periods of time with a laptop.

In short, Borders wasn't perfect and it definitely went downhill as it lost its original book-familiar management (I've read that they've had a lot of corporate management turnover the last decade, which NEVER helps -- it's like a football team that fires its coach every year) and started flailing around in search of the elusive "killer strategy" (which should have been, as it once was, "Sell books and sell them well"). But I'm going to miss it terribly.

Cathie from Canada

I like a little quirkiness too -- in our local McNally Robinson, you can't find the mystery anthologies in the same section as the other mystery books.
When I asked why, one of the clerks rolled his eyes -- apparently their mystery book buyer doesn't "believe" that anthologies "belong" with his other books, so instead they're shelved with all of the other general literature anthologies. I got the impression that it was a regular topic of discussion at the store. So at least they're talking about the books.


Ideally I'd like the employees of a bookstore to know books and authors. Unfortunately, the people who fit that description often seem to need more than minimum wage out of a job.

The Borders nearest me is my neighborhood store; it's in the mall at the bottom of my hill. Its space was formerly the 2nd floor of a JC Penneys, which left town about five years ago. I'll miss it not for the ambiance but for the convenience.

Virginia Llorca

We have a nice B&N in a nearby mall with the cafe section, child friendly area, etc. Don't go there often. Usually use library. I am an older woman with a young, gorgeous daughter. We approach snack area. Daughter says "Two lemon bars." Guy gets little plate, puts cute doily, picks biggest, prettiest lemon bar, presents to beautiful daughter. I say, "We wanted two." He grabs a napkin, slams bar on it, shoves it toward me. We still laugh about it.

Agree demise of Borders and other like industries due to mis management and maybe not DUE to e-pub, but definitely beneficial to e-pub.

Rob Hill

Having lived in Boston and then NYC the past eleven years I've lost touch with the plight of having a chain bookstore as one's only refuge. Downtown Boston has/had a decent Borders, but I rarely went there because, well, it's Boston. No shortage of indie shops to choose from.

However growing up in Michigan, I remember when a Borders opened in our town it was a godsend. At last one could find titles beyond the usual bestsellers and bodice-rippers of the local mall bookstore. Prior to that if I was interested in something alone the lines of, say, Celine's Journey to the End of the Night, my only option was a long drive to Ann Arbor. Which was particularly challenging before I had a driver's license. These days, of course, any budding bibliophile in the sticks can order their rations from the internet. But back then Borders truly was an oasis. Because of this I will toast their memory.


I dunno, Lance. Not sure I agree with many of your points here.

Barnes & Noble had a huge presence online until Amazon clobbered it (ironically, using Borders to supply the books.) It, too, bled stores and hemmorhaged money.

Until it developed the Nook. Now, the Nook and the Kindle go head to head, but the one advantage the Nook has over the Kindle (and iPad) is you can walk into the B&N and skim the book physically before downloading it.

Yes, you can "preview" on all the devices, but two points in the Nook's favor:

1) You can preview as much as you want at the bricks and mortar store and

2) You can put down the book you are browsing and pick the next one off the shelf. That's much faster and more efficient than clicking, then clicking, then clicking. It could be the best combination of cyber- and realworld-retailing around.

Your point about over-expansion is a good one, except that began long before the real estate bubble even began to build. More likely, Borders just picked crappy locations for their stores (really? Park and 57th Street????) In fact, Borders had its greatest expansion before 2003.

What probably killed it was a shift in focus of its operations, trying to become a digitial hub a la Best Buy instead of a bookstore.

Violet Mannion

My favourite memories of bookstores have nothing to do with the bookstores themselves, but I was instead most sad to see the Borders nearest to me close for two reasons:

1. It was not inside of a mall. So it was quiet and more comfortable.
2. That's where I'd go at midnight every couple of years for the long excited lines, costume contests, and my-age crowds for the newest installments of Harry Potter.

As for the first issue, we still have a Borders, but it is not located inside of a mall, and is not really anything more than another entrance into the mall itself. There is a clear path between the inside of the mall and the outside world, and the books just so happen to be in said hallway.

As for the second, regardless of the bookstore's actual home-y-ness or comfort level, the atmosphere created by those Harry Potter releases provided that and more.

My favourite bookstores are actually used bookstores in Boston. There's a lovely one on Newbury Street called Trident Books. It houses both used and new books and has a cafe and restraunt area. However, it isn't ideal for relaxing and finding good books. It's just fun.

There's another used shop called Raven Books which is fairly decent.

No, I've changed my mind. My favourite bookstore was the Borders' that has since closed. That Borders did a good job.

My favourite childrens' section was quite elaborate; it included a stage and some carpet-covered benches from which to watch children putting on impromptu plays. (Or Harry Potter costume contests.) It was tucked away neatly into a very comforting back corner of the bookstore with a lovely entranceway sign that made me feel like I was walking into Narnia when I was a little kid.

I can't remember if the current MallBorders even has one (I'm sure there are picture books somewhere), and the childrens' section in our MallBarnes and Noble is much as you described. (Which is to say, not comforting or well-designed or cared for in the least.)


Believe it or not, Borders started as one store on S. State Street in Ann Arbor during the 1970's (God, I sound like an old fart). I used to go in there to look at the art books on the second floor.


Thinking about your larger point, I want to develop something. I probably should do a post at my own blog about it, but let me hammer a frame together here. Pardon the noise.

The bookstore experience is not unlike the experience of any specialty shop, from bikes to scuba gear to hardware to records. The physical store is now a niche. The succesful ones, meaning sadly the ones that survive, get you to come in for what you intended to, to fit yourself for whatever gear and to pick their knowledgable brains for information.

What they manage to do, unlike the shops that go out of business, is to convert your "window shopping" into a purchase.

Most of these shops operate their primary lines on thin, thin margins. Bikes, for example, have almost no profit at the retail level. If you pay $500 for the bike, you can bet he probably ponied up pretty close to that for it wholesale (I'm tempted to say his gross margin on that bike is $50, but ten percent almost sounds high).

Where he's making his profit is on accessories. Sure, he'll fit you for a bike, let you test drive a few to your heart's content, but walk out with panniers and a bell and he's made the same $50 as on the bike, but with less sales effort, less outlay of cash for inventory, and he knows that the moment that bike you ran over to Sports Authority to buy for $40 bucks less breaks, he'll hook you for a $35 repair bill (where you probably would have gotten free service for two or three years by buying the bike from him, no questions asked).

In fact, the only reason he sells any bikes is the image in the neighborhood of someone walking out with a gleaming Trek or Schwinn, and other people going "That reminds me...."

My suspicion is, this is the same dynamic that keeps indie book shops in place when chains are drowning: you don't go there to buy a book, you go in to receive wisdom.

And you end up buying stuff anyway.

Kevin Wolf

Never had any connection to Borders myself, though the closing of any bookstore is a bad thing in my, er, book. But I have friends who worked at Borders when it really was Borders - that is, book-centric and devoted to the customer. You should hear these folk talk about the place pre/post-sale of the company. Borders was apparently purchased by a bunch of weasels.

I love a good bookstore and on the rare occasions I get down to Boston or Cambridge I'm happy as a clam. Salem had an indie bookstore that lasted a couple of years (with cafe) but they simply weren't distinctive enough, though they tried to service the immediate Salem community. There's still a used bookstore downtown that I browse at risk of death from a falling stack (you should see this place) so I can still get my bookstore fix. But I have to enjoy the cafe bit separately.


Always disliked any Borders I ever entered for all the reasons you've patiently detailed. And absolutely love the description of "some used book stores," which captures an observation I've long thought but never seen in print before: "And some of them aren’t so much stores as windows into the mental closets of their owners and that view can be really disturbing."

The greatest bookstore I've ever been in is Powell's in Portland, a mixture of used/new that rambles on from one room to another like a Borges fantasia. Second is City Lights here in San Francisco, where the ancient bohemian atmosphere is authentic and the geography of its tiny space as labyrinthine as Powell's. In third place is the country of Canada, which has exquisite independent bookshops in every city. When I was sleeping with a Canadian for five years, I'd go into any bookshop in that country and ask any clerk what I should be reading that was local and always walked out with a treasure.

Now it's the public library in San Francisco. Been going through a Gertrude Stein kick for the last three months, her own works and various biographies of Gertrude & Cronies. Checking out a first edition of "Everybody's Autobiography" off the shelves or an old paperback of "The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook" is a real kick. The old books smell right.

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