Features Aug 3, 2011 at 4:00 am

My Life at the World's Dumbest Bookstore Chain


My only complaint is the slight against The Clash cds!
@1: No slight—there was just a whole entire, you know, MUSIC SECTION for that kind of display, and it really was the best display spot in the whole fiction section.
Good luck using unemployment benefits to finance a new degree or a move to another city. I say that in a depressed sense rather than a nyah-nyah one.
Well said, Paul.
Thanks, Paul. Brings back memories of simpler times in my life...
What does "hand-selling" mean in this context? None of the definitions at dictionary.com quite make sense to me.
I lasted less than a month at Borders back in 2006. I couldn't stand working there. It felt so cold and soulless. While I'm not sorry to see the chain go, I feel horribly for all the hard-working people who will be out a job. :(
The first half of this reads like the plot to Empire Records. If only Borders had thought to hire Renee Zellweger to host a roof party, this all could have been avoided.
Nice piece.

Just read an essay yesterday by George Orwell, "Bookshop Memories." Takes a different turn from yours about how working at a bookstore changes the relationship with books. He loses his love for books.

Good article.
"A tiny, mean ferret of a man became our store manager..."

Just now, my Schnapple bottle cap educated me:

"Ferret comes from the Latin word for 'little thief'."

How serendipitous...
I worked for Borders during the same time period, Paul. Albeit on the other side of the country. You captured it perfectly.
Having worked with Paul for a while at that same Borders (including time under the reign of the small ferret-faced manager -- who never referred to books or CDs as such, but as "product", and used awful corporate terms like "no-brainer", which cause me to hate that term to this day), experienced much of the same Ann Arbor-fueled assery at that store, and observed the changes in Borders over the years since, I'm anything but surprised that Borders is closing. It was a lumbering beast that had its moment (maybe one-two years in mid-late 1990s) where it was doing most everything right in terms of where publishing was, but then the corporate types got greedy and stupid, and with no forward-looking vision (as displayed most powerfully by the decisions to not move to selling DVDs early on in that cultural shift, or the focus on an internet presence, and to hand that over to Amazon.com), I feel like most everything they've done since I left (and even before then) has felt like the flailing before the death (especially adding in their greeting card/wrapping paper/shiny crap line).

I started in remainders at a store in Jersey, which are basically the hardcover books publishers want to get rid of after the paperbacks are out, or just plain badly selling books (like Dan Quayle's political ouevre). Then after moving to Boston and selling piles and piles of remainders, I moved onto music books, then new books and inventory management for the store. These roles (well, maybe not music books) all showed me the general life of a book, and particularly, how they move through a mainstream store like Borders. In the end, the bottom line of both remainders and new books is volume, volume, volume. Any brief successes I had in creating something unique to the store (a discounted staff selection area) or expressing any sense of my or my co-workers' senses of personality in displays, etc. was crushed by the advent of Oprah's Book Club and ever-increasing micromanagement of what books we pushed, paid or gave attention to by Ann Arbor.

One of the saddest moments I've ever had was about two years ago when I went back to the Boston store, and saw one of the folks Paul and I worked with (over 12 years ago) still in the DVD and music store. I couldn't bring myself to say hi.

All that said, I loved working with (most of) the folks I did at that store -- some serious characters, at least until Ferret-face arrived. I loved being around books (even if it meant I sometimes had to stress out about maintaining our stock of awful ones like "The Rules"). And while I didn't have quite as wild a time as Paul, I distinctly remember some ridiculously wonderful parties (not the Christmas one with the BJs, thank God) and times.

And likely my most favorite time was when I got to sit in a room with Arundhati Roy, right after "The God of Small Things" came out. Boston was her FIRST stop on her FIRST US book tour ever, and I got to sit in a room with her for an hour while she signed books in preparation for her reading, and talk to her about writing, life, etc. I always talk about that whenever someone brings her up. Sometimes I think that hour made all the other crap worth it.
@6: Hand-selling just basically means selling a book to a customer by personally recommending it. As opposed to a customer looking for a specific book or picking a book up of a display, hand-selling is when a bookseller says "you should really read this book because..." and convinces the customer to buy the book. It's the main thing that physical bookstores can do that online retailers can't.
I knew the ferret-faced manager when he was some sort of corporate zealout for the Syracuse store. Initials were CC, I believe.

Great article.

Initially the booksellers had to take some sort of trivia test to show their mettle, but it was "deemed" too difficult for future generations of employees.

I wanna riot of my own!
I didn't work there, but I really liked that Boston Borders store. It was a good place to browse, and they keep the special orders inside an old bank vault.
Read Rebel Bookseller by Andrew Laties!
I only went to my first Borders a few years ago, but I can easily picture everything the author described. By the time they got to liquidation, there wasn't a single book or other item in Borders I would want to buy, even at deep discount. I went to my local Borders shortly after they announced the liquidation, browsed for TWO HOURS and bought NOTHING. What a waste.
@Paul - you obviously love books and you are obviously a passionate guy. You got a lot of things right in this article. I was right there with you - up to a point. I was with you until you began to malign a person for the purpose of making your story sound better. Sure, you didn't mention his name. But, if you worked for Borders when that individual did (or if a person can use Google as well as you) it isn't too hard to figure out who you are talking about. Maybe you are okay with that. But, it made you a little less credible to me. I too, once worked for this individual (but not at the Boston store). I found him to be a great boss and a decent human being. Your experience, it seems, was different than mine. But no matter how you cut it, I can guarantee that the "tiny, mean ferret of a man" would never be so disparaging (especially in such a public forum) to anyone he ever worked with. And that makes him a more stand-up guy than you.
This is the best article on Border's we'll ever get to read. Thanks, Paul. (And yeah, @19, I don't understand the liquidation thrill-seekers. It's been hard to find really good new books in Borders the past couple of years, so why would I want to go buy some cheap bad books now? Oh yeah, resale to compulsive Internet buyers ... but I'm not in that game.)
I also worked for Borders, on and off, and while our store was calmer than the store in Boston Paul talked about, I developed very similar views about Borders management between my first stint at Borders ('93-;95) and my second ('01-'02). The demise of Borders was no surprise at all, and it wasn't all Amazon's fault: http://nolongerslowblog.blogspot.com/201…
great article.

and yes, the first chunk of this DOES sound like a '90s slackcom.
It was hard to stay human during the Ron Marshall years. He was a horrible person. I don't think he realized we work with books, and have maybe read books on management. None of them advocate bullying and abuse as a tool. I would also list the horrible inventory systems which never really gave us inventory control and the 20 year leases which made it impossible to resize stores even when we realized the trend to smaller retail was here. After that, just corporate mismanagement. We were among the top selling religious/bible store in the company, yet could never keep stuff in stock. No one at AA would go out on a limb to spend the money, though the sales were there. After sixteen years I'm losing my family, the people I work with, which is the only thing that kept me there.
Good analysis. I worked at store #93 in Santa Monica from July of '95 thru final closing sale & clean-up in January of 2009. The corporate shifts were definitely felt at the ground level and yes the .com miss around 2000,2001 was a big one.

Bob Bass
I was an assistant manager at store #66, Seattle downtown when it opened, and worked there for three years. Even back then (mid-90's) it was clear that the company was going down the drain. Our original mandate was to "localize" the store by having staff order books to fill their sections, keeping local interests in mind. That stopped by year two, and we were told what we were going to stock. Business started going down at that point. I'm really amazed it took this long for the company to fold. It was a long, painful decline.
A few of our local Borders closed in the previous round of liquidations. I went in the final weeks, and easily spent $300. Maybe that makes me a soulless bitch, maybe the wealth of remaining sellection indicates that people in Denver don't read. In either case, there are a handful of stores in our metro that are cllosing in this the final round, and I'll be shopping those stores as well.

I love Barnes & Noble, Borders always felt very sterile and not like I could sink into a chair with a book. But I much prefer the small local bookstore, I just haven't found one here yet. I'm disappointed every year at Christmas (which apparently starts in stores in Sept) when B&N is full of toys and other crap. I hate to buy books online, I don't care how much of a discount Amazon gives. I like to be able to pick up a book, smell the new paper and ink, flip to a random page and read a few paragraphs. There's no subsitute for that.
Thank you. I worked for Borders for ten years until 2010, when I was run out by a GM who was fired a few months later for stealing from customers. You have written the most honest testimonial of what really happened to Borders. Word for word, your experience there was my own. It was nice to finally read an article written by someone who truly understands what happened and what is happening.

I'm not a bit sorry that Borders is closing. It's why the corporation deserves. But my experiences there will always be a part of me and I am grateful for them.
Thank you. I worked for Borders for ten years until 2010, when I was run out by a GM who was fired a few months later for stealing from customers. You have written the most honest testimonial of what really happened to Borders. Word for word, your experience there was my own. It was nice to finally read an article written by someone who truly understands what happened and what is happening.

I'm not a bit sorry that Borders is closing. It's why the corporation deserves. But my experiences there will always be a part of me and I am grateful for them.
What a well written, true and heartbreaking read.

I'm lucky to work at a small independent bookshop now - the 5 years I spent in the Border's book mines helped me secure the job after an ill-advised stint trying to work a desk job at a small publisher didn't work out so well.

I got out not long after the Borders Rewards cards came about - when they started lording the quotas over us, I knew it was time to get out. Borders was no longer selling books - we were marketing a lifestyle. I was not going to play a part in that.

It makes me so sad. The mismanagement, the fact that quite a few people I know will now be among the (many more people I know) without jobs.

I'm so lucky to still be working in a bookshop. The pay may not be the best, but damn I love my job.
I agree w/Estey - best words we will likely read on the Borders situation...R.I.P
@CatBallou, You've not found Tattered Cover? They have charming locations in Denver. http://www.tatteredcover.com/locations-h… Colfax Avenue is in a re-purposed theater, it's a great space. Downtown's is nice too.
Paul, you've answered the questions I had. I hate to visit the Barnes and Nobles bookstore in Springfield, MO because I can never leave without spending at least $50, usually more. I live 100 miles from a book store so I always have a pent up demand. When I happened to be in Springfield last February, I noticed the signs on Borders advertising "Everything 10% to 50% off." How could I resist? I quickly discovered that only the magazines were 50% off, everything else was 10% off list. No matter, I'm used to paying list. Two hours later I left and bought nothing. I couldn't find a single book in my favorite genres that looked worth buying, even discounted. I'd never had that happen before. Usually, when I visit a bookstore I have to restrain myself not to bust my budget but Borders manage to have not one book that tempted me.
Borders' lack of a good website and lack of attention to ebooks really was its downfall. Of course, I was mortified when, during the final closeout at our local Borders and we had $100 of book purchases, my husband mentioned to the checkout girl that he hadn't bought a physical book in quite a while and only read ebooks anymore. He didn't seem to get it. I said quietly to him as we walked away, "you know you just told that girl that you're responsible for her store closing, right?"
my store closed back in april, was unemployed for over a month, living off unemployment benefits that didnt even cover my bills. the 12 month period they based my unemployment on was during the year borders figured a skeleton crew was enough - i.e., 8 hours a week = less than $200 every two weeks in unemployment. working retail again, but stil heartbroken over the rape and murder of my store by the corporate dickfors that "always know better".

I still cry in the bathroom a bit after accidentally answering the work phone with "thank you for calling Borders, this is.."
Yeah, Catballou, are you even looking? Tattered Cover is an institution in the indie book world, not just Denver.
I was such a loyal Border customer back in the day. Their music section was dynamite. It had EVERYTHING. But I noticed, as the 90s closed, a change in the store. Employees were way less friendly, and of course, the music section was yanked out. But like Paul, I loved it for a while.
Wow. I'm a former Borders employee (store 36 in Charlotte, NC) and reading your article is like reading my own thoughts. When people became the least valuable asset at Borders, Borders became a hellbound train. I really loved working at Borders, but, in the end, they deserved what they got.
i dont know about you but not all books are the same. alot of them are picture books and art books/cofeetable books. you can't replace those with a kindle. kindle might be fine for reading only text, but we still need bookstores for picture books and art books.
As someone who also went to work for Borders in 1996, I agree completely with this article. I left in 2000, but still shopped often & visited old co-workers. I had the same thoughts about their lack of iniative in regards to an online presence. My local store closed last spring. I'm still terribly sad and miss it. I especially miss the Borders of the 90s. That was a company that was different and had hope.
It was always Harvard Book Store for me. A Borders in Cambridge was like having an Applebee's on Newbury Street.
I can relate to the closing of a business and what that entales. I was with a retailer for over 28years and the liquidation process is brutal, not only do you have to tend to people who had never been in your store, you have to deal with the personal emotions that are tied to your employment the years of memories the knowing that most of the people that you seen on a day to day basis those you worked with will no longer be there to share experiences with. It was an extremely emotional experience for one that I never want to repeat again. I psyched myself up thinking that I could actually handle the experience but on the day after everything was over it hit and hard I was depressed I had plans in place however no plans on dealing with the fall out. No one prepares you for after everything is over gather with some people who are experiencing the same thing for support no one unless you go through it too. It is a loss and should be treated as such nothing will ever be the same and your world does get turned upside down and inside out.
I couldn't have described my own 7 years at Borders any better. Thanks for the great read, Paul!
Check out our Help Ex-Borders Employees Blog - Help ex-Borders employees find work, make rent, have food and survive - http://borders.posterous.com/
This reads like a multitude of once promising companies going under. Bigger, faster, stronger morphing into dumber, slower, blander, and out of business...it's the American way.
nice to see my relentless love of s-k affected someone.
I worked at the Michigan Ave store in Chicago for a couple of years. (Heck, I sorted that store!) Started in True Crime/Western/Romance and moved to New Books. Loved my job, loved the people I worked with, loved the location, hated my paycheck. I was a part of a group who tried unsuccessfully to unionize the store and then I left to go back to school. When I moved to Seattle I applied at the downtown store only to be told I wasn't qualified to work there. My indignation was so complete I could barely speak. Tell me you aren't hiring, tell me you don't like me, tell me you'll let me know and then never call. But do not tell me I'm not qualified - not when I worked in the busiest section of the flagship store and rocked it out! Hindsight being 20/20 and all, I now know I was damn lucky not to get hired there. I never had to deal with Borders Reward cards or Make items or the ever-worsening managers. I hear stories of what the later employees (2000 -onward) dealt with and it makes my head spin. Borders destroyed itself.
Very similar to the downfall of Tower Records in so many ways.
Great work... Go write your book... The Ultimate Insult will be a book from yourself.
Best. Borders. Ever.
I work at an independent bookstore in Canada and the scary thing is that I can see shades of my own bookstore in this article. I feel sad for the employees, if not the regular customers.
Sounds suspiciously like the present Books A Million chain (now the second largest chain since Borders closed) right down to pushing/selling "Millionaire Cards" to customers for $20 a pop, James Patterson novels and diet books taking over the store (and the amazing amount of right wing propaganda the store I worked in lined the aisle with, Glenn beck, Bill O'Reiley, etc...ugh). Also, the Birmingham, Alabama based chain has now partnered with Barnes and Noble to sell the Nook! I feel bad for my friends that still work for the company, but I'm secretly praying fo their demise (I quite a few months ago after 3.5 years). They treat their employees and store managers like crap (and there is definitely a trickle down effect taking place there...)and expect loyalty and blind devotion, especially when it comes to selling those stupid discount ards, which they claim, pay booksellers salaries! Idiots...
If you think Borders was bad, you should have worked for an insurance company. You may not have thought it was the best place to work but you stayed for quite a long time and it paid your bills. No employer is perfect and management within a large company is usually bad. One hand doesn't know what the other is doing and nobody asks the little people who are actually in the trenches trying to make the business profitable, for any advice. Why didn't Borders try to get some autors to come in for book signings? We had a terrific little Mom & Pop book store nearby that used to have Mary Higgins Clark every few years. Unfortunately they went out of business - or retired, I'm nto sure. Maybe this will bring back those little stores - if they also had coffee bars, that would be a big draw for me.
Having worked for Waldenbooks as an Asst manager through most of the 90s, I can totally relate to much of what you say here. There was a 2 year period where Ann Arbor let us do pretty much whatever we wanted, except for a couple mandatory displays each month (this was during the big move/consolidation of Waldenbooks/Borders HQ under the Borders Group banner, and as a result, they didn't have time to bother with telling each store how to run themselves, and our District Manager was very cool, so he let us do our thing, too)...

Anyhow, once the consolidation was done and they pretty much mapped out how EACH AND EVERY end cap in the store had to be set up, I could see the future and it wasn't bright. And when they wouldn't embrace the internet, still trying to cling to printed newsletters, even as late as 1998, I could hear the bells starting to toll.
I always went to Borders. Never bought anything there, though. I liked the attmosphere and their coffee shop was way better than Stabucks (who is partnered with Barnes & Noble).
The thing that always got me about Borders was they put the prices of everything well above the MSRP and then plastered their 30% OFF stickers all over it, giving the impression of being able to buy it for a deal. Well, it worked for awhile, since the average Joe is stupid enough to buy based strictly on a sale or clearance sticker than based on proper pricing or need. But the last few years, the average Joe has become more frugal and intellegent in their spending. Which is why Blockbuster is pretty much gone, and Borders is now closing.
please don't underestimate the adverse impact on borders' finances of the "borders rewards" card and the concomitant coupons, and the "buy x get y free" trade paperback promotions. none of these were funded at all by vendors. so, borders essentially gave up from 25% to 50% in earned discount on all such sales. if these had been to strictly new customers, no problem, but borders started aggressively pushing the card/coupons/free offers to their existing customer base, without hope of margin recapture. CDs and DVDs were also being purchased from AEC, a distributor in florida for from 12% to 20% and offered for up to 30% discounts. conversely, purchasing more from ingram or baker & taylor for stock-turns rather than from the publishers for discount, would have freed up valuable dollars as well. ceo phil feffer tried that and was pilloried by the then-board of directors members diromauldo and mrconic, who resented being kicked "upstairs" to make room for the ex-ingram and ex-random house president. i honestly believe that borders could have survived the internet debacle if it hadn't been for such wanton surrender of gross margin. oh yeah, that and horrendous freight-in and freight-out costs and excessive inventory carrying costs. also, borders was very opposed to refusing any returned book almost in any condition whatsoever, thus turning the dominant bookseller in many towns into the area's largest lending library. claiming they could re-shelve or return the book masked the reality to non-book industry dimwits that they were effectively purchasing used books at no discount only to re-sell it at sale prices again and again. sic semper tyrannosaurus.
"Closed the public restrooms"? What public restrooms? The few times I went in that crappy, overpriced store I asked to use the restroom (something about book & music stores makes me have to pee) some grouchy employee told me there wasn't any. I always laughed when I heard about some homeless person pooping in the aisles.
i knew folks who worked at borders. i would go every few months and they always knew me. it will suck going and knowing i will never see them again. i could always find some cool tunes there or just unique folks. i remember going there with a friend once and we just chilled on the floor reading the zombie survival guide while some musician was there playing a live set. i bought the zombie survival guide... well 2. one for me one for a friend. i will miss that place.
When I saw that you worked in the Boston store, I wondered if you would mention the manager. "a tiny ferret of a man" I couldn't have described him better. I was a new GM in his district. What hell he put us through. There were 5 female GM's in the district, when I went sceaming out the door several months later, there was one female left. He was a large part of what went wrong with Border's at that time. He was the rising star in the company, no wonder they are closing.
That Borders at the Maine Mall was the best. They had a decent criticism section and I even remember picking up a couple of Killing Joke cds there. RIP Maine Mall Borders.
I feel tremendously sorry for those who have lost their job in this bloodletting (i lost my job a year and a half ago in another industry that mirrors the book business) but as I advanced my way through this story I got increasingly irritated by its tone and apprehension of the particular circumstances of Borders' demise. It occurred to me that I read similar pieces years ago on the demise of the big box record/CD stores like Tower and Virgin. Borders fell victim based on a confluence of factors that afflict all retail establishments that are predicated on specific market forces. Bad management doesn't help but please spare me all the sturm und drang about how it was some corporate utopia prior to the crisis. These stores developed organically over time and worked well under a different environment. That environment was never going to last forever; that's why no one reading this is shopping @ Montgomery Ward or Sears. Sorry. books are product, literary product but nonetheless. They're not product when they're in a library. Corporations are always telling employees they're family until it all goes south. Then you're just another person selling books and trying to hang on as forces beyond your control have your destiny in its hand. Complaining about individuals in these circumstances is petty. You're ALL cogs in a machine. I know that's harsh but welcome to 'Modern Times.' Might there have been a moment when the management could have found a better way? Maybe. But Jeff Bezos is a competitor and he's coming to rip your heart out. Failure to grasp this elemental concept is folly and your executives failed to understand what was coming. Does it hurt? Yes. But acting churlish doesn't alleviate the situation although it's clear other Borders ex-employees can identify. And with all due deference to Orwell, there's always been a dissonance between the business of book-selling and the art of books. Ask those who make sausage and those who like to eat them.
@20: See 61.
I worked for Borders from 98-03, and your experience mirrors mine very closely. At store 97, we were talking about the end of the company ten years ago.
I worked for B&N for 11 years. Starting at a large concept store when it was a BookStar owned by Bookstop in Texas. I loved those years working with books and great people and became part of management. Barnes and Noble bought Bookstop/Star and kept the names on the existing stores because they had a loyal following. The next five years the company changed to become a streamlined monster that would drive out rivals such as Crown Books, etc. . I've seen a lot of ugliness over the changes that would follow, from selling spacing to publishers and monthly directives form a corporate world on the other coast. I could write a lengthy story of experiences from the other side of this fence. Weekly we were asked to do a "competitive analysis" of the competition (spying) and submit our findings to the District Manager which always made me feel dirty. I spent many hours in Borders stores and always admired (in the early days) the atmosphere it presented. My favorite thing was that the employees did not need to wear ties and dress shirts as a pretense for a professional image. I always thought Borders would outlast the less creative and slow moving giant of Barnes & Noble... the truth is it will... but not by much.
As someone who is 2 weeks away from quitting my job at the Canada version of Borders... I hear ya. I fucking hear ya.
The content is excellent, of course, but the structure and format of this article enters the realm of the sublime. Very beautifully crafted.

I went to the South Hill Puyallup liquidation , bought nothing, then went to my car and cried.
My late husband and I spent many many hours @ Borders, took our children there, enjoyed a coffee, made friends.
B&N does nothing for me, they don't offer any place to sit, it's sterile.
RIP Borders, I will miss you.....
I worked there for 6 years, saw many changes, and came out in the end heartbroken.

Especially around the time they were making us sell "key and make" titles. Books that Borders made us sell a certain quantity weekly. If we didn't hit our goals we were written up, 3 write ups and we were fired. That is like going into a grocery store and having an employee push a certain brand of butter on you that no one has heard of and the employee hasn't even tried.

If we were not heard mentioning the "key or make" title of the month in every conversation, it went on our :report cards." Also, the store received DAILY posts about how our store was failing / winning this goal compared to the other stores in the district. Instead of unifying the district we were pitted against one another frequently.

Some of the worst business decisions I have ever heard of came through Borders. Let's hope that no other company becomes like it did in the end.
I worked there for 6 years, saw many changes, and came out in the end heartbroken.

Especially around the time they were making us sell "key and make" titles. Books that Borders made us sell a certain quantity weekly. If we didn't hit our goals we were written up, 3 write ups and we were fired. That is like going into a grocery store and having an employee push a certain brand of butter on you that no one has heard of and the employee hasn't even tried.

If we were not heard mentioning the "key or make" title of the month in every conversation, it went on our "report cards." Also, the store received DAILY posts about how our store was failing / winning this goal compared to the other stores in the district. Instead of unifying the district we were pitted against one another frequently.

Some of the worst business decisions I have ever heard of came through Borders. Let's hope that no other company becomes like it did in the end.
I totally agree with this essay. I was a manager for Borders and loved the fact that I could dress my own way. Then one day it was "collared shirts" for management. My customers thought I was crazy for going along with it. My usual attire was along the lines of rockabilly/punk. The staff recommends section went from a table to a bookcase to an endcap in my time. So sad. I would tell customers if I hadn't read a book but if someone I trusted had and liked it. They loved that I was honest. I still see customers 5 years after I left saying that I really made them love coming to Borders. They all said the management after I left had no concept of what a book was.
I totally agree that the nail in Borders coffin was when they let Amazon sell for them online. Welcome to Borders and then redirect to Amazon. How many people would come in with books they got online and say "Aren't you and Amazon the same company". I say good riddance to a company that forgot that the thing that separated them from the competition was the quality of the person selling the book not the price of the book.
I never liked Borders anyway, but it was a good article. I would say that it was basically the same as B&N except they made worse business decisions. Inside the store they have been roughly the same for years. Maybe B&N had better service and recognize the future better. Either way, on-line and small stores is the real future of books, and isn't that what book lovers want anyway? One down, one to go.
Hi there,
Wow thank you for writing that, you captured perfectly how I feel. I work at a Borders in New Zealand, and I know you said you were against it going international which is understandable, but our store was just the same. We were like a family who would go out each Friday night, we all had our staff recommendations around the store and we all loved books.
And then things changed and we got in 100 copies of the same new book and none of the classics or hard to find series we were known for. We couldn't put up a display without approval from Australia. And we got loads of junk to sell instead of CDs. And now needless to say we're closing too. Sad story.
I worked in an independent bookstore in the 1970's and loved it. I first walked into a Borders in suburban Boston in the mid-1990's. It was such a fantastic, well-run place that I didn't believe it was part of a chain (my father finally was able to convince me that it was). I loved the notecard recommendations the staff placed throughout the store, and the fiction selection was amazing. Going to Borders in those days was a treat, something I never felt about B&N. Over the years, Borders gradually lost their best attributes, and this article paralleled my experience as a buyer. Even in the past year, I still loved Borders, and she will be missed. Fortunately, the Boston suburbs still have a few good independents, but I wonder how long they will last.
Barnes & Noble is doing all the things that, according to this article, Borders didn't do. Will it survive? Maybe. But Amazon will certainly continue to thrive. A lot of hand-lettering scribes were laid off by Gutenberg's revolutionary press, and protested en masse... The real question is whether this post-industrial out-sourced economy can any longer absorb all the people laid off by the automation and internet revolutions. Maybe it can't.
I worked for Borders in 1986-87, and it was an amazing place. Everyone there loved literature and every store had its own personality. Then it was bought out by Rite Aid and began its slow decline. Unfortunately, Borders does deserve to go under. You can't run a bookstore if you don't love books.
I worked at two different Barnes and Nobles part time back in the 1980s off and on for about three years. I was there to use the employee discount to build my own home library of books. I read every Sunday book review supplement, helped customers special order books from publishers, and hand sold all the great books by new authors. Whenever an author published a new book, I made sure the customer new about their backlist. Unfortunately, no one else there loved reading or cared about books. The assistant manager never read a book review. If she did not recognize a book the customer asked for she lied and said it was not in stock yet or that we never carried it. She said she had never read a book review supplement and had no intention of doing so. I would signal customers when she walked away and help them. Our store manager filled the end caps on every book shelf with the crap books pushed to sell, and created an annual Christmas shop of books that could only have books that that had the word Christmas, New Years Ever or Holiday in the title. When these two women were off we changed the end caps to showcase the best selling books in our area. The Christmas shop was changed to include holiday books for all religions. The teens that worked at night and weekends all fell deathly ill on Friday nights and only worked weekends when it was raining. After I acquired a decent library I quit. I have no regrets about my time working in a chain book store because I got to help children and teens get passionate about reading (as an alternative to video games) and helped adults turn reading at home into family night. I have a Kindle now and mostly order my books and music online from Amazon. I rarely go into a book store now.
Mirrors my own experience with the store as a _customer_. It started out so great and slowly became soulless. Less cool music, fewer obscure titles, more diet books and Ann Coulter. And I was amazed way back in the day when I discovered Borders had no website. I thought, even back then, "these guys are losing money here."
I worked 3 years for Barnes & Noble. I've worked over seven years for Books-A-Million. It's bewildering that Borders is the one that went over from this description, as BAM has been run like Borders was since at least 2002 (when i wound up stuck there the first time around,) only to extremes that many might not even be able to conceive. The contempt and mendacity that roars out their Birmingham home office is endless. Although i still work for the company and have quite a few friends there as well, i'll rejoice when it crashes and burns.

At the moment, BAM has partnered with B&N to sell the Nook. The training the employees receive is superficial, with a few details about how it can hold thousands of titles, ect. We receive no hands-on training and are encouraged to buy it ourselves to learn how it works so we can sell it. We were not informed before Christmas that the Nook could not directly access the BAM website, that e-books must be downloaded to a PC, then transferred to the Nook. Only the B&N site is supported directly. We lost quite a few customers in January, as their brand new Nooks were not truly compatible with our store.
I used to love Borders here in the UK, but by the time the big stores they had here in my city closed down, the stock was abysmal and I can well understand your frustration about the tat that was being promoted at the expense of good writing and classic literature. Our main bookseller here is now Waterstones which I haunt on a regular basis, a place filled with towering shelves of amazing stuff to discover and it feels like a place for the reader not the corporate machine - at least for now.
I can not fathom how Books A Million is able to stay in business. Take the stupidity of Borders and multiply it by 1000. I worked for both. The ONLY thing BAM cares about is suckers falling for the discount card and the magazine scam they run.
I liked that Seattle Borders. For years I went in there while waiting for the bus or just to kill time. I read a lot of magazines. And one time I even bought a notebook.
All the more reason to pay a visit to Powell's in Portland if you live in the Pacific Northwest.
My biggest persistent complaint about Borders was that no one ever wanted to work the cash registers. There'd be three or four employees in the cafe, three at the info desk, and one poor shlub at the cash registers.

The book collection did go way downhill from what it was when it first opened and esp. in the last three years when it was just crap.
Once a company starts referring to what was once a creative endeavor as "product" it is time to leave.
Whine, gossip, rude. Cheap article, low blows, trash talk. How this garbage was published is anyone's guess. Go back to school and finish your education---you might learn a thing or two.
That Boston store was crap-- I've been there.
This article doesn't really reflect the beautiful bookstore in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor that I remember. RIP.
Great article. Shows that the internet doesn't kill a corporation... its the MBAs.
i worked at borders from 2000-2006. just as others have said, there was talk of the company going under long before now. when i started, i loved the ability to keep your store unique; we made our own music displays, selected our favorite books. when they took away our ability to make our mark on the store, that is when it started to die.
I worked for Borders for over 4 years, while I was in college and after I graduated. I can definitely identify with your experience. I made friends I hope to keep for life, and had life experiences that I'll never regret. Seeing the store I worked at close, seeing the manager that had opened the store close it was a sad moment for me. Of all the full-time employees at Borders, only the GM received a severance package. Once the liquidators got in the store, the vibe turned from dismal to panicky. I really appreciate what you wrote: a real and no-holds-barred testament to a company the exemplified that not being in touch with reality on the corporate level, not accepting the times that you are in and not being able to teach the old dog new tricks was the demise of this company. Many people blame the fall of Borders on the e-reader, but that's not true. Waiting until 2008 to develop your own website, letting your biggest competition manage your website, and other decisions like not cross-training your employees to work all parts of the store (a tremendous waste of manpower, in my opinion) hurt Borders on the store level.
Great article, Paul. I feel your pain. I worked for a bookstore chain that went under, too, only I was there to the bitter end -- Upstart Crow in California. I have a friend who managed a Borders for a while, and was the best bookseller I've ever met, but who left when the management idiocy you describe got too overwhelming.
Thank you from another bookstore lover. If you're ever in San Francisco, check out Green Apple Books, best new and used place I've ever found. I'm on a serious budget these days, or I'd go to my local liquidating Borders and gorge myself on the marked down inventory, but I just can't afford it. Too many political contributions, too many donation s to the food bank.

I think the two posts holding up the tent of civilization are uncensored public libraries, and well stocked, well managed book stores. Seems like we're losing both, lately...
"The last Borders is expected to close in September." The Singapore store is allegedly not closing down - anyone have intel on whether that's true?
Thanks for that.

The first job offer I ever turned down as a starving recent college grad was $19K/yr and Tuesdays and Wednesdays off at the A2 flagship. Interesting to imagine where that path might have led.
I worked at two Michigan Borders (not at Ann Arbor) from 1990 to 2001. This article is so accurate it's frightening.
"While Borders was trying to avoid paying any attention to their website, they were expanding internationally—a series of ill-fitting launches in the UK, Australia, and Singapore."
Having gone from working for the original borders.com directly to working for Borders International, I heartily second this analysis. A mis-guided trade-off that really came back to haunt the company.
Seattle still has a good selection of of book stores, but for a lot of small towns who have no other options than to go to a shopping mall, Borders was it.

I like smaller shops so I didn't shop at Borders in Seattle, but when I did I would see people sitting around browsing and not buying.

Another bookstore going down. RIP. Again such bag of crap for the people who are loosing their income.
Excellent article, Paul. I worked for Waldenbooks (owned by the same company as Borders, I do believe) for 8 years, from the mid-eighties to the early nineties, and so much of what you relate here happened nearly identically at Waldens. Well, except for Internet sales and eReaders, of course. Otherwise, the scene played out the same, even right down to the "tiny, mean ferret of a man" manager. Oh yeah, we had one of those. Mismanagement at all levels of the organization, displays filled with junk completely unrelated to books (as one of my co-workers put it at the time, the store should have been renamed to "Waldencrap"), quotas for pushing club cards..yeah, it all sounds scarily familiar.

I'll miss Borders. I went to my local store every week, but I doubt I'll go to the liquidation sales. Deals or no, it's too depressing.
this story mirrors my experience at "The Good Guys" electronic store in 98/99. they're dead now too. these were commission salesmen, the managers were all dickheads.
I like how the author takes credit for predicting the demise of Borders, yet the reasons he gives have nothng to do with what actually caused the end. In fact, the very reasons he gives are the exact reasons Barnes and Noble are still in business.

This whole article celebrates mediocrity. It is quotes nd thoughts fro people, including the author, who are tiny widdle cogs in a large corporate world. That he is still so naive as to thnk that ANY of his time at Borders was special, that they were ever NOT a corporation bent on profits, shows just how mediocre he is. It is all wishful thinking.

It remnds me of current Starbucls employees. They were all "barristas" until they had to make a breakfast croissant; then they became glorified fast food workers.

Get over it, dude. If your ambition in life sticks you in retail for very long, you've made a serious mistake somewhere.
Excellent article, Paul. I'm sad anytime any bookstore anywhere closes. :(

Great more unemployed Americans. It's like this whole country is a bus sliding off a cliff in slow motion and John Boehner is driving.

    Please wait...

    Comments are closed.

    Commenting on this item is available only to members of the site. You can sign in here or create an account here.

    Add a comment

    By posting this comment, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use.