Reading an average of four hours a day (books, news, magazines), the news that Borders Group had filed for Chapter 11 protection, and gotten subsequent approval to close 30% of its stores (including the entire Southern California region) proved to be – for me – bittersweet. In the former, it was bitter for everyone, as CSPAN and other publishing and economic pundits suggest this is a sign that the “age of the bookstore experience” may be coming to an end. In the latter, the news was sweet, for this meant store closing sales.
Never did I imagine, though, that Borders would fall the same way as every other two-bit store that goes out of business. When I envisioned heading to the store for close-out deals, I thought it would be just as if it were regular times. Books would still be easy to find; the coffee shop would still be open and brewing; I would still be able to get help finding an obscure book only my local Borders would carry.
I have no idea why I thought this.
The store closing sales began yesterday (Sunday), and by this (Monday) afternoon, the store had been all but dismantled at its very core. The bookcases had begun to be taken apart, although not for sale (as evidenced by the signs around every corner, and the employees explaining to people that all fixtures would be sold to private liquidators). The books in real demand were gone – the shelves picked clean by the earliest Sunday buyers. The employees were nowhere to be found, except at the cash register; and none of them were the old employees (those having been fired in favor of temps that would reliably come to work and not cause problems). Everything was on sale and there was no coffee being brewed; in fact, the coffee shop had been completed taken down, except for the chairs and tables, which held a few people sitting on their laptops in the dark, using the last bits of free wi-fi the cafe had to offer. And there were books everywhere – the bottom of the barrel, nobody wants to read these, who published these anyway? – books. Strewn on the floor, ripped almost to shreds; in the wrong sections, mixed with other books. Marked at 20% off, these books littered the place, making it look like the seasonal Halloween store during the day-after clearance. It was like Armageddon at the bookstore, only instead of the end of the world, it was really only the end of an occasional escape into the world of print.
What animals we have become; what vultures. Books are a treasure: the ability to write, publish, and read what we want (no matter how trivial or mundane) is something our society has clearly lost respect for. No matter how horrible the book, no matter how great the deal – to turn the closure of this store, and the (possible) beginning of the end of the bookstore experience into a free-for-all, state of nature swap meet seems almost criminal. The question, though, is who is really to blame: the people who come like vultures to a fresh piece of meat; or those in charge that set it up to happen?