Borders: Portrait of a liquidation

With 200 Borders stores going into immediate liquidation following the chain’s bankruptcy, I took a Presidents’ Day stroll to our local to survey the sadness first hand.
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This was probably the busiest I’ve seen this place aside from Christmas in years and years. There was still a good selection of GNs in the store — but they didn’t have a discount announced, interestingly. As I wandered around a kid with an obvious learning disability asked a clerk where he could find Star Wars books.

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The cafe where people whiled away the early part of the century — once a Dean & DeLuca, now a Seattle Coffee Roasters. It had been open last time I was in the store a few days ago, but no one wants to sit and enjoy a hot cocoa in the middle of a liquidation.

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Part of the Borders and B&N problems is that in the ’90s the bookstore was a great place to get up to date, meet people, and get out of the house, especially in urban areas. Think about how many Seinfeld episodes take place in a Barnes & Noble. The bookstore as singles bar. Then came the internet and not only could people sit at home and order books, they could get up to date and meet people, too. Who needs getting out of the house?

This says a lot about the evolution of community, alienation, and culture…but it’s not a bad thing. Once, people met at coffee shops to plan revolution. Now they use Facebook.

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A shill on the corner manned a sign advertising the sale. Where did it go so wrong?

Comments

  1. Heidi, was the hot cocoa a direct by-product of the liquidation?

    Just teasing…Interesting piece. Thnx!

  2. >>>Where did it go so wrong?

    Here:
    Borders Hanged Itself Slowly Over Two Years
    http://mikecanex.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/borders-hanged-itself-slowly-over-two-years/

    It goes back further than that, but *that* as far as I’m concerned is when they really killed themselves.

  3. i used to work at Borders. actually in, two location near where i still love. and i went to visit one of the stores to say ‘hi’ to a few friends that are still there. everything mentioned here was pretty much what i saw over the weekend. it was made that much more sad because i knew the people working there pretty well.

    when i left that store almost a year ago now i knew that location in particular was a sinking ship. a part of me is sad that my friends are gonna be out of a job soon, but they’re all pretty up to the challenge… when i heard about Diamond cutting ties with Borders, i immediately thought about the my local LCS that i used to work at also, before they shut down too. like that situation, in both situations i just look at this whole situation as being that this is what happens when complacency takes over in how you do business, and Borders just didnt do enough in time.

  4. *i used to work at Borders. actually in, two locations near where i still live.* (whoops, fixed)

  5. Suzie says:

    I went to my local Borders to check out the sales too. Everything was 20% except for the calendars for 2011. Seriously. That’s not a liquidation sale.

    On top of that, you could see on many of the books that the Borders price sticker over the cost of the book printed on the dust jacket actually showed that Borders was charging more for the book than the list price in the first place! I have little sympathy for a store that plays games like that.

  6. The cafes were closed by Seattle’s Best, wholly owned by Starbuck’s, as they are not part of Borders at all. Everything else in the store gets sold to pay off at least part of the massive debt owded by Borders but the cafe assets are owned by Starbuck’s.

  7. I am a Borders alum as well and I never once saw an item priced above MSRP.

    To add to the where to go, coffee, and meeting woes, it is/was a really great place to work — lots of cool people interested in books and other stuff. Add in great employee discounts, bring supportive of going to school, etc. etc. But that was the nineties — must be tough going into work today.

  8. do ANY Seinfeld episodes take place in a Barnes & Noble?? :

  9. “Then came the internet and not only could people sit at home and order books, they could get up to date and meet people, too. Who needs getting out of the house?”

    This is silly. People don’t want to get out of the house anymore? Again, the internet/web is given too much credit.

    The cafe at the Borders in/near Princeton, NJ was open until the last day, in early January, and quite a few people seemed to enjoy coffee (not latte) in a liquidation setting. I did.

  10. Borders lost the plot around 1999 – they just stopped caring and the stores reflected that.

    Liquidation is obviously in the hands of a liquidation firm counting on stupid customers – everyone knows that most books on Amazon are 35% off and they’ll arrive in better shape even after being manhandled by UPS.

    The employees? Certainly they saw this coming in the headlines as early as two or three years ago. Did anyone think this was going to be an ongoing concern?

  11. Also, they may still meet at coffee shops to plan the revolutions. Starbucks is still packed, as a re numerous locally owned shops.

    Bookstore coffee shops, not so much.

  12. Seattle’s Best is listed as being owned Millions on the court documents. So it’s no surprise they upped and left. “No creme caramel JavaKula for you!”

    This is the beginning of store liquidation. As any astute shopper knows, stores start with low discounts, then slowly rise said discounts to maximize profits. I expect Borders to sell everything at 20%, then eventually 40%, then return what they can, warehouse the rest, and then fill those liquid stores with non-returnable merchandise from healthy stores.

    B&N cafes are still packed (at least in Manhattan). Except people now are checking their email and Facebook accounts while they sip their $5 lattes.

    I’m not a fan of Seinfeld, but I found at least one reference… where George tries to take a book into the restroom. Perhaps more dedicated watchers can give more examples?

  13. Snikt Snakt says:

    Is that the same episode of Seinfeld where Uncle Leo is caught stealing books?

  14. The Beat says:

    Ross — you never saw the “Bathroom book” episode?

  15. Andrew Farago says:

    No, that was Brentano’s.

  16. Yup, Brentano’s.
    http://www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheBookstore.htm

    So technically, Brentano’s was Borders.

  17. My family came across the location on Peachtree St in Atlanta over the weekend. We had missed it on the closing list. It was already at 75% off storewide. Nearly bare. I did pick up a couple of promising crime books but no kids books in sight and very slim pickings in the comics department.

    Luckily, the ones we most often frequent are staying for now. We did check out another location that had 20% off all the books and the line for the registers was wrapped a few times around the entire front of the store.

    We weren’t sure what to make of it. Borders must not have been able to communicate how good a deal their rewards program was. You could beat that price any week (for a single item at least) with a coupon. My wife’s only comment was that they should have just reduced everything to 20% storewide at Christmas and the might have saved themselves some grief now.

  18. Jerry Ray says:

    I was in the Peachtree (Atlanta) location about a week ago, when everything was at 60% off. (That store was announced to be closing a couple of weeks prior to the bankruptcy and the big wave of closures, hence why it was ahead of the curve on the markdowns.) Surprisingly, they still had a lot of good stuff on the shelves at 60% off. Unfortunately, mostly stuff I already had (the last couple Star Wars books, all 3 volumes of those Bloom County hardcovers, etc.), but I still found a couple of things I wanted to buy.

    I still buy a fair number of books from brick and mortar bookstores (though I do also buy a lot from Amazon and Tales of Wonder), though Barnes & Noble closing my hometown store made that quite a bit harder. I’m not one to go sit in a bookstore and read like it’s a library, but I do enjoy going in and browsing. It was a sad day when Atlanta’s Oxford Books chain closed in the 90s (I spent many a late night in there wandering the aisles during college), driven out of town by Borders and B&N, and now it’s a sad day to see Borders and B&N on the way down.

  19. William Gatevackes says:

    I went to a soon-to-be closed store in Danbury, CT and saw something that was odd. Everything that the wife and I bought had to have the UPC box crossed with a Sharpie. I guess they didn’t want to have people run to another non-closed Borders store and return them there for a profit.

    But comics (and all periodicals) were 40% off. So if you weren’t too concerned with having mint books, you could have saved some money.

    And the checkout line snaked around the entire store. If they did half as much business as they did that day, they might be in better shape.

  20. oh yeah, the rickshaw episode! i remember now! haha.

  21. SuperCrown discounted everything in the store.
    40% off hardcover bestsellers
    25% off paperback bestsellers
    20% off hardcovers
    10% off everything else (except bargain books)

    Were it not for some Shakespearean drama amongst family members, the chain could have succeeded.

    Borders can do the same… stop stickering the books (saving material costs and man-hours), post signs all over the place, and advertise. Free shipping over $25, or ship it to the store for free for pickup later. The price online is the same as the price in the store.

    The website and e-books… those are probably a lost cause. The only way to improve the e-book store is to offer PDF files people can own.

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