Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

Home > Letters to CR

Shannon Smith On Where Will The Borders Shoppers Go?
posted January 14, 2011

That's a really good question. I worked in three different Borders in the Atlanta area and one thing that gets lost is that these are very much community stores. Or, at least they served fairly important purpose in the communities. I'm not talking about bestsellers (or worst sellers). That stuff can be found somewhere else. Online, Even Wal-Mart. But there are some things that won't be as easily replaced. Where else can a desperate parent walk in without their kid's school list and be able to find a staff that already knows every book their kid's school requires? We also sold tons of those huge exam prep books. Tons of medical books. (And I do mean tons literally here. They weigh a lot.) That kind of stuff can be found online but it's the sort of thing you really need to look through first and not the sort of thing I think you could do on a cell pad pod phone. At least not the whole writing and highlighting routine that goes with studying. Borders did a great job in stocking all of that sort of stuff based on the communities specific needs. I think it will be missed.

And one thing Amazon and your cell pad pod phone is never going to do is have a huge annual book drive to give books to the kids in your local community.

Now a lot of folks will just go to Barnes and Noble or Books-A-Million but most areas don't have multiple stores. And a lot of areas don't have other bookstores at all. At least not since B&N, B-A-M and Borders came in and put them out of business.

Oh, and one more thing. As I often told customers that would say they could get it "cheaper online"; "Yeah but Amazon is not going to let you use their bathroom or stand around looking at magazines when you need to get out of the rain."

Wal-Mart is going to have your best sellers. They may even have some of the school reading stuff. But I doubt you are going to find a Wal-Mart clerk with a binder on hand with a list of every school in the four county area and a list for which books every grade of every school needs. You'd be lucky if they could point you in the direction of the book aisle.

And those exam books, a lot of that stuff is specific by state and or region. Just reference material in general. From medical books to art monographies to auto repair. I have no idea where folks are going to get that stuff. That's the kind of stuff where a place like Borders is great because you can grab a stack of them, sit in the cafe (or floor) and spend an hour or so trying to figure out which one is the one you need. Or, ya know, in a Borders, you could ask a book seller for help. That might be the biggest loss.

And I'm not talking about the avid book readers. They pretty much take care of themselves and will find a way to do so going forward. I'm talking about the people that turn to the local book store for real, sometimes desperate, need of help. Good luck to them.

Here's an example to illustrate what I'm getting at.

It's Monday. You are unemployed. You see in the paper that your area needs postal workers and they are giving the postal exam on Wednesday. You go to the local library. They usually have the postal exam guide book but since it was in the paper all the copies are gone. You look online. Amazon can have you the book in two days but you need it today. Borders had ya covered. Borders had that postal exam guide today.