Sunday, July 24, 2011

Good-Bye Borders


Borders South Portland
It's official. The Borders bookstore chain is closing. The announcement is sad, but not unexpected. Book-buying habits have changed drastically in the past decades, and even with its well-stocked shelves, comfy chairs, and coffee bar, Borders eventually failed. I wonder whether the traditional bookstore is destined to suffer the same fate as the video store?

First, the independent bookstores were replaced by the mega-bookstores (Borders and Barnes & Noble). Then these stores had to compete against the discount chains (Walmart and Costco) and online retailers (Amazon). And now, even paper books may soon be a thing of the past with the advent of e-books (Kindle and Nook).

Not to be nostalgic, but it wasn't long ago that independent bookstores were everywhere. Browsing in these small independent bookstores was one of my favorite leisure activities. I remember spending hours browsing in Cody's in Berkeley, Papa Bach's in West Los Angeles, Tower Books in Sacramento, and, recently, Cunningham Books in Portland. They were once all here, and now they're gone.

Of course, the truly special thing about the independents was the owner or manager who was a true bibliophile and who knew books. These people could tell you anything you wanted to know about a book, author, or publisher.

For me, books, like anything of value in life, need to be experienced in person, hands on. It's a sensory experience. I love opening a book and leafing through its pages. I like the tactile sensation, the weight, and the physical look of the printing. And while I do buy books online and have a Kindle, I still prefer books on paper and buying them at a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. For all the benefits online shopping provides, it can't match the social benefits of going to the bookstore and chatting with staff and other customers.

Yesterday, I visited the Borders in South Portland. As I was browsing through the sale items, I mentioned to a store employee how sad it was that Borders was closing. Every time, I had been to Borders, the store seemed bustling and full of life. He agreed the store was popular, but people used it more like a library than a store. They would hang-out, read, browsed and schmoozed, but didn't really buy books. At least, not enough. So like any business, if it doesn't earn a profit, it's doomed to failure.

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