Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Borders Watch 2011: My Week as a Vulture

On Monday I read a news story that Borders Books had failed to find a buyer, and was going to have to liquidate all stock and close all of their stores, forever. While this is a terrible thing, because it means that thousands of people are about to be out of work, it's also a pretty good thing for two reasons:

1) Of all the major chain bookstores, Borders is the one I will miss least. Every time I get a Borders gift card, I end up spending most of it online because I usually have trouble finding what I want in the store. I'm not asking for obscure books, either, like a Nine Gates or a Gutenberg Bible; I'm asking in December for a book that was on the New York Times bestseller list in October, and there's not a single copy in the store.

You know why?

Because the bookstore is full of crap that isn't books. The Borders by me has a book and magazine section, a CD section, a DVD and Bluray section, a toy department, a board games area, a coffee bar, a Burt's Bees health and beauty section, a stationery and greeting cards area, candles, backpacks and other apparel, calendars, a candy and snack aisle, and some register space where you can pay for something that, in all likelihood, probably is not a book. If I wanted a bunch of other crap, I would go to Target or Wal Mart or some other store that doesn't claim to be a bookstore.

2) Who doesn't love a sale? As an American, I would like more things, please, but I would also like them at bargain basement prices. With that in mind, I started my Borders stakeout on Monday night, keeping a close eye on the store by my house.

Monday, Day 1 of Borders Watch:

Given the freshness of the disaster news, I didn't expect to see any signs up yet, but I did want to go in and see if there was actually something in stock that I might want to buy at the end of the week. I settled on Chuck Palahniuk's Tell-All, because it just came out in paperback, they have a lot of copies and should still have them by the end of the week, and the cover art looks like Lana Turner. You know how I love having dinner with Lana.

After scoping out both locations in the store where copies of the book were displayed, and then making a quick circuit of the bargain books section to see if there was anything I might want even cheaper, I left, content to circle the parking lot like a vulture circling a cowboy crossing the desert with no canteen.

Tuesday, Borders Watch Day 2:

I circled the parking lot again after work, doing a slow driveby of the front doors like a high school mean girl trying to intimidate my rival for prom queen. I'm out here, Borders, and I'm waiting.

There are no signs on the front of the store, but there are also no outside display tables or racks near the front, something I've only seen missing in bad weather. I'm not sure if it means something or if it's just close to closing time because I stayed after work too late.

On the way back to my apartment, I thought for a moment of the time way back in the fall of 1999 when my friend Donna and I went to the closing sale at Stop and Go Video in Cortland, NY. Stop and Go was a really old school video store (they all were back then), a Mom and Pop operation where all of the video boxes were on shelves with clothespins clipped to the front of the shelf. If you wanted that movie, you took the clothespin with the number on it to the counter and they got it for you. If the box was sitting there with no clothespins, all the copies were rented.

Blockbuster and Hollywood Video came to Cortland at about the same time, closer to campus than Stop and Go, and that pretty much killed the store. Video Circus (a slightly seedy video store which had a back room and an "erotic thriller" section that had every Shannon Tweed movie, ever; Shannon Tweed movies are an oddly fascinating exercise in discovering how many different jobs require you to take your top off, and you have to wonder if she just started inserting those scenes into the movies herself out of force of habit) was still open the last time I was in town, because it was in walking distance of campus and none of the other stores were, but the Stop and Go sale was sudden and frantic. They announced it in the morning, and when we got there at lunchtime the parking lot was packed. Inside, people were running to and fro with handfuls of clothespins, and the lines at the counter snaked almost to the front doors. I was enraged to discover that someone had the clothespin for the second half of "The Stand", but the first half was still there, because seriously? Who does that? Who buys half of a miniseries? What am I supposed to do with the other half?

Annoyed and mildly enraged, I ended up with The House of Yes, Freeway, Nowhere, and The Last Supper, none of which I still own because I no longer have a VCR. Still, I've always been a little miffed that I didn't get that copy of "The Stand".

That's not going to happen this time, Borders. I'm getting that copy of Tell-All even if I have to pry it from some other shopper's cold dead hands.

Wednesday, Borders Watch Day 3:

There were still no tables in front of the store, but still no signs on the windows. The parking lot was very full, though, so I was intrigued enough to go in. As I parked, a family of little people started getting into the car next to mine, and like an Ancient Greek I wondered if it was an omen. One of them had on a neck brace, which seemed even more tragic somehow than a neck injury normally would.

Inside the store, nothing was on clearance yet, but an employee was going through all of the front tables, book by book, and removing the "Preferred Members save an extra 20%" stickers from each book, implying that the whole store will go on percentage instead. I scoped out my copies of Tell-All to see how many were left and then left the store, biding my time.

Thursday, Borders Watch Day 4:

There still aren't any tables or racks out in front of the store. I guess Borders doesn't do that anymore, in their decline. The parking lot was very full, more so than yesterday, and it occured to me that I might not be the only vulture circling in the parking lot. I made a point of trying to remember some of the cars, to see if they also came tomorrow. As I drove past the front on my now familiar loop I noticed a small sign on the door, and two older ladies standing in front of it, reading.

A sign! This could be it!

I immediately pulled into a space and walked quickly to the door, but was sadly disappointed to read that it was not a store clearance notice. It was close, though:

Effective July 22:

-All sales are final
-Checks will no longer be accepted
-Borders Reward Points can no longer be used

Intrigued, I went inside to see if anything had changed since yesterday. All of the discount stickers were gone from the books except for the very front table, where the brand new bestseller releases are, and the books on the bargain racks. Everything else was apparently going to start at cover price before discounts were applied, which would be a little annoying if the closing discount was lower than the discount I would have gotten on Tuesday.

Also, there were still plenty of copies left of Tell-All, so I left the store with confidence, and decided that if the discount was really good, I would also look for In the Garden of Beasts when the sale finally started.

"Finally" would apparently be Friday, July 22.

Friday, the end of Borders Watch

As I approached Borders today, I could see cars parked all the way out to the street, and between the trees I glimpsed the sign:

borders closing

The end had arrived.

It was time to get my copy of Tell-All.

The stack on the front table actually was depleted when I got inside the store, noticing on the way in that the small sign from yesterday had been replaced with giant window covering "Up To 40% Off!" signs instead. My slightly discounted (seriously, how can you have a going out of business sale at a bookstore and only have fiction 10% off?) copy of Tell-All safely in hand, I went to go look for a copy of In The Garden of Beasts, but was unsure of whether it would be in the 20% off History section or in the 10% off Biography section, since it was a story about a specific family. I couldn't find it in either section, nor on the 10% off New Hardcovers rack, so I went to the computers to look it up.

And discovered that they've shut off all the in-store computers.

Each monitor has a sign taped to it that says "We can no longer look up or order titles. Please ask an associate for help." This makes no sense to me. They could look up titles yesterday, and nothing changed between yesterday and today except that they hung up some signs. Suddenly they can no longer keep track of their stock, and even more surprisingly, the staff at Borders is going to suddenly be helpful after the ridiculously bad customer service I've received there in the past.

A while ago, I went to Borders to see if they had a copy of Queenpin. Even though it had just come out they didn't have any in stock, because they needed shelfspace in the bookstore for Legos or scented candles or something, so I went to ask if I could special order a copy.

"Oh, sure! Of course!" the guy at the information desk said. "Let me take you to the special order computer."

We then walked across the store to a computer that connected to the internet, and the guy directed me to I then got to look up my own book, enter my own ordering information, and have it shipped to my apartment, just like I could have done at home on my couch without even going to Borders. Thanks, Borders employee, for doing the bare minimum. If you'd at least ordered a copy to the store, I would have had to come back to the store to get it, increasing the chance that I wandered the aisles and bought something else. Instead I went home, waited for my book to arrive, and resolved to just order from Amazon from now on.

There's probably a lesson there about what went wrong at Borders as a whole, but I decided not to dwell on it and, instead, to go find an employee and ask for help in locating my book.

"Oh, we sold out of that about three weeks ago," she said, shrugging, and not asking if there was anything else she could help me find.

"Really?" I asked, taking on my comically haughtiest tone as I looked around at the line of shoppers picking over Borders' corpse and the limply hanging discount signs. "Well! I'll never shop here again!"

She looked at me for a second, until I smiled, and then burst out laughing.

"Yeah, I guess you won't. At least not after next week."


Anonymous said...

I loved in the early 2000's when everyone was telling librarians that libraries needed to be more like bookstores. What do you think now, jerklegs?

SJ Phantom said...

I got the official announcement e-mail this morning and thought of you immediately. Like you, I just don't like the store and what's even worse is that Waldenbooks is a ginormous disaster. Now, if only Books-A-Million would disappear as well...

Donna said...

I remember buying "Chasing Amy" at the Stop and Go. I know I also got a few others. :)

Joel said...

I only remember the 4 movies I bought because they were the only movies I owned in big, plastic video store cases.

Suzanne said...

I went by Borders on Tuesday and was also highly disappointed by the lack of good sales available.