How to respond to the demise of Borders

With negative business news about the bookstore Borders, a number of commentators have weighed in with opinions about how to respond. On one hand, Borders is a big box bookstore that helped push independent and smaller bookstores out of business. On the other hand, the demise of Borders suggests that bookstores in general are on the way out in favor of online retailers.

Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich writes about how the closing of the Borders store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago affects the shopping district:

By Saturday, Borders’ marquee Chicago store, at 830 N. Michigan Ave., will be closed for good. And — here’s what I think is the real news — the city’s premier shopping street will be without any bookstore for the first time in decades…

Borders was hardly a landmark on par with the old limestone Water Tower that stands just outside the store’s windowed walls. It had occupied its prime corner for only 16 years, barely a blip in Chicago history.

But 16 years is half an eternity in retail time, and Borders had come to seem as basic to the street as traffic.

Back in 1995, when it opened, spinning through its revolving doors was like stepping into a literary Oz, a unique place that, even though part of a chain, pulsed with ideas, people, cappuccino.

Even people who sniffled that it was killing smaller bookstores — most memorably the cozy shop just up the street run by the legendary Stuart Brent — came for the books and the buzz.

I myself have spent a good amount of time in this store, browsing books and music. This location was a nice change of pace from the typical retail store (clothing, in particular), a place to get out of the heat or the cold, watch people go by on Michigan Avenue, and enjoy browsing.

Instapundit provides a different perspective. After some comments about how Borders leftist leanings might have driven some customers away, Instapundit quotes an email from a reader who cites the irony of people lamenting the end of Borders:

Is this — like much of the newspaper industry — a case of the leftist 20% of the populace chasing a way a lot of potential customers over politics? Or is it mostly just technology and convenience?

STILL MORE: Reader Gary Rice has thoughts on the sudden onslaught of Borders-nostalgia:

Re; Borders…. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that Borders and Barnes & Noble were the bad guys? Corporate behemoths destroying the local independent bookstore with their Wal Mart like pricing models ? Wasn’t there even a Tom Hanks romance movie about this exact subject?

So Amazon comes along with a better pricing model and now we are all supposed to mourn liberal Borders’ demise? It is a wonder these people remember how to read, because they sure can’t remember anything else….

Heh.

A good point: can we lament the end of Borders today after criticizing it for over a decade? Perhaps we can: bookstores could be considered “third places,” a middle location between home and work where citizens could gather to read the news, talk to each other, and shop. I suspect there will always be people who like going to bookstores (I will still enjoy it though I’m not sure I would go out of my way to go there) but perhaps they simply can’t survive on the scale and size of a Borders or Barnes & Noble.

These sorts of strange juxtapositions may one major marker of our globalized and fast-paced economy. Do we want any bookstore or a big box bookstore or an online bookstore or an independent bookstore? People vote with their dollars and visits and within twenty years, the entire landscape can change.

But I doubt we would see the same kind of mourning if Walmart suddenly went out of business in favor of online retailers. There is something unique here about bookstores.

The demise of Barnes & Noble

Bookseller Barnes & Noble (B&N) is in bad financial shape. According to a commentator in the Wall Street Journal, B&N fell prey to the Internet though they made some missteps on their own.

I, for one, will be sad if bookstores such as B&N and Borders go completely out of business. B&N came to the Chicago area in the 1990s and I shopped at some of the early locations. They were like a new world compared to the bookstores that existed then: relatively large, nice decor, with a varied selection. (I know some would argue this could be found at independent booksellers but I haven’t ever had much experience with these in my suburban life.) As both B&N and Borders expanded into music (a section I spent a lot of time in) and coffee, I found them even more likable locations. I still occasionally am very happy to spend an evening in one of these stores, browsing through magazines, music, and all sorts of books.

Shopping for these things on the Internet has some advantages, including the big factor of pricing. But browsing Amazon.com is still a qualitatively different experience than browsing a large bookstore.