Thursday, February 17, 2011

Border troubles

I'd read a while back that Borders, the US's second-largest bookseller, was having some financial trouble during this time when everybody else is, too. So it didn't really surprise me yesterday to learn that the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, nor did it surprise me that President and CEO Mike Edwards had sent (or commissioned) a mass email reassuring everyone that Borders is "open for business" both in meatspace and online and that, while a few underperforming stores were shutting down, everything would proceed as normal, please keep shopping here, keep calm and carry on.

I really hope that the company pulls through. Yes, they're a big-box business, the plague of mom-and-pop shops and surely the plague of all life on Earth. But back when I worked in DC, I spent almost every night after work at the 18th and L St. store while waiting for the bus home. I spent lazy Saturdays at the Friendship Heights, Pentagon City, and Bailey's Crossroads stores, sometimes with friends and sometimes on my own. I read whole books there that the local libraries didn't have, and nobody ever bothered me that I wasn't, you know, buying the book first. I ate their carrot cake; it was delicious. While the chain isn't nearly as prolific in my corner of Ohio, I still shop at every so often. So, while I don't normally root for big business, this isn't just a faceless corporation for me: it's my old haunt, and I'm guessing that (due to sheer proximity to one another) at least one of the four stores that I've mentioned above will be going out of business soon.

Call it the tempores and mores if you want. Say that bookstores should see or should've seen this coming from miles away. Say that the industry is changing, that e-readers are the wave of the future, and that pulp paper books are going the way of the dinosaurs. SAy that this is karmic justice. I don't care. Borders' financial upheaval puts several hundred or several thousand jobs in jeopardy during a time when too many people are unemployed or underemployed. But more to the point: they sell books. They make literature available to the masses for a nominal fee. Sure, Ohio's got an absolutely stellar library system and I can get most of my reading material for free. But not all of it! And not everyone can say the same about their library. And if (like me) you don't have an e-reader? Suddenly, the world of literature is shut off to you.

What then?

So, I really hope that the chain restructures and rebounds. I hope that Chapter 11 works for them, because it would be a tragedy if the whole chain went under -- not only for its thousands of employees and investors, but for the country as a whole.


DISCLAIMER: Jeffrey W. Dern is not an economist. In fact, Econ 190 was his worst class in college. So this is purely a personal reaction and should not be taken as a doom-and-gloom prediction of economic volatility. For that, he refers you to the words of J.P. Morgan when asked to predict the stock market's next move: "It will fluctuate."


  1. I got the same email. I will say that Borders' collapse has sent a shock wave through the manga-reading population since they are one of the few brick and mortars to actually carry manga. Ours in Lawrence is definitely closing down, and I'm kind of hoping the local comic book store will pick up some of the slack...? The local one in Iowa City had a fantastic selection and I did all my shopping there.

  2. Yeah, I just got an email that the store at 18th and L in DC -- where I used to hang out literally every night after work -- is closing down. So, that's kind of depressing. And a little surprising: I always saw people actually buying stuff there, so it's hard for me to think of it as an under-performing store in light of some of the other stores I mentioned within a close radius.