Farewell, Borders…

Photo: Martin Dam Kristensen

Well, we all know that Borders is going out of business. After years of challenging other book chains and independent bookstores, Borders is throwing in the towel and admitting defeat. Depending on which articles you read, the reasons for Borders’ and fall vary. Some say they grew too large too quickly. Some say they forgot who they were in their move to become *the* bookstore of choice in the US. There are a lot of factors that led to the bookstore chain’s demise.

I have mixed feelings about Borders’ disappearing. Back when Borders first came to Philadelphia, their arrival and the deals they offered meant that some local independent bookstores went out of business. It was only natural. As loyal as customers can be to their favorite shops, they can be easily charmed by something as shiny and new as the original Borders location in Center City, which was close to Rittenhouse Square. It offered what the other chain bookstores in the Gallery and Gallery II didn’t–a place to meet with your book club or writers group, staff who were actually interested in books and were very helpful, frequent author readings and book signings (I saw my first author reading at Borders, first heard about MFA programs there and spent) and great prices. For independent bookstores, which also offered book signings, great staff and a place to meet, the prices Borders could offer bled them dry.

Around the time Borders first came to Philly, I was working at one of their competitors. I had friends who worked at Borders and loved it there–they had benefits I wasn’t being offered like health insurance (including dental & vision), a better employee discount, etc. I admit–I was envious. When I left that competitor and began looking for another job that would help pay for my college expenses, I ended up at another competitor because Borders wasn’t hiring at the time. But as much as I wanted to work there, there was a part of me that didn’t really like how so many of my favorite indie bookstores were closing shop because they couldn’t compete with Borders.

Borders in Center City eventually moved to a new location at the corner of Broad and Chestnut Streets (a.k.a. the Avenue of the Arts). I also moved. I’d left Philadelphia a few years earlier to live in Richmond, Virginia while working on my master’s degree. Then I fell in love and moved to Stockholm, Sweden. I liked Borders’ new location but I missed the proximity to Rittenhouse Square, one of my favorite small parks in the city. Still, I ended up spending lots of time there whenever I was in Philadelphia because I could buy all the books I couldn’t find in Sweden as well as all of my favorite literary magazines and then mull over them with a cup of strong coffee.

The last time I was in Philadelphia, I went to Borders one evening for an author reading. I don’t remember the author’s name but she was a local writer who was reading selections from her novel.  There were at least 50 people present that evening and the mood was fantastic–everyone was very supportive and the author, who was very shy at first, blossomed thanks to the positive, welcoming attitude of everyone present. I remember I bought the author’s novel but I forgot it at my mother’s house when I returned to Stockholm. I will have to read the book now during my August visit to Philadelphia.  I think I will have to walk by the now-closed store on the Avenue of the Arts and tip my hat to the store.

2 thoughts on “Farewell, Borders…

  1. Nice post, Kim, lovely evocation of times past…So what Borders did to small indie bookstores has been done unto it!

    I guess there’s some kind of justice in the world, after all!

    But I have a question: how are bookstores in Sweden? With the fantastic entrance of Swedish literature on the global scene, one wonders how the situation is in Sweden. Are there indie bookstores? A Borders-type stealing the whole scene?

    • Hi Claude! I am not sure what the situation is in Sweden as a whole but in Stockholm many independent bookstores have disappeared. One of my favorites was New York Stories, which was owned by my friend and fellow American Margaret Patane. The store was a gem–good location, great service and selection of books. Unfortunately, it is hard to compete in Stockholm because of Akademibokhandeln, the big bookstore chain here that wishes it were Borders (or at least Borders pre-financial problems) and online bookstores like Bokus and Amazon.

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