Borders Closes: The Loss Of An American Landfill As Bookmart

Per recent comments here, we’ve been dwelling on Borders neutron-bombing many local stores. Not that we miss them particularly. They, like Barnes & Noble, were both seemingly everywhere and indistinguishable once inside. That made middling venues like Politics & Prose seem precious, like a soy milk Espresso Con Panna Grande.

Across the D.C. metroplex bookmarts in a medium or higher lease obligation zone got the axe. Tysons Corner? 18th & K? Friendship Heights, White Flint, etc.? Chop. Nearby B&N stores stand albeit with thinning product.

We won’t go into Borders’ defective business model. Suffice to say, a major competitive edge – a deep back catalog – vanished with the web and became a liability. The remaining few good used bookstores around town face that same remorseless process. B&N feels it too but controlled fixed costs and jumped early on the gizmo, Nook.

At a remaining Borders today we spoke with a familiar staffer. Over the years she’s helped with special orders. She advised remaining stores had to pass a bright line low(er) overhead test. Survival is also relative. This once robust bookmart features only about 60% of earlier inventory.

Walking around felt a bit like being in the Soviet Union in the mid-Gorbachev years. Everyone pretending to believe they will make it. Like listening to Sovs then vaguely promoting incentives to the command economy, here one must ask, ‘What exactly are the surviving remaining stores?’ They’re not bookmarts. They’re not niche plays.

Demoralized staffers shuffle books across new open spaces, dodging hastily placed empty ‘book club’ tables and ever more greeting cards. Even the coffee store furniture has been downgraded.

We continue to be astounded that the capital of an alleged superpower doesn’t have at least one world class book store. When we think of those who have gone before and now passed we can’t dismiss the thought, unbidden, that it’s a mercy they never saw America today.

Remaining product on the shelves is wide and thin. Notable exceptions? Military (Nazi) porn appears intact, for example. That’s to be expected. Outside it’s America and D.C. More curious are the still overpriced DVDs and CDs. It’s improbable at their price points they generate much revenue. Wouldn’t it be interesting to go through a monthly report and crunch the number to see if these truncated, former bookmarts can survive?

Sometimes it’s a mercy to shoot the wounded.