You may have heard that the Borders bookstore chain is in the midst of another round of financial struggles, the latest in a series of such difficulties that have played out over the last several years. This Washington Post article gives a terrific overview of Borders’ plight, and there’s no doubt it has a very valedictory tone. For this writer, at least, it seems as though the Borders story is just about at its end. If Borders goes down, that means the loss of more than 700 bricks-and-mortar bookstores, which is certain to make a dent in the publishing industry.
As a company that grew up out of the Midwest, Borders has always had a stronger profile (and lots more stores) here in the Chicago area than its bigger competitor, Barnes and Noble. Many of those local stores were opened in communities and neighborhoods that were already served by independent bookstores, and many of those independent stores went out of business. Concerned observers have lots of questions about what Borders’ troubles mean. For example: if Borders does disappear, does that mean new opportunities for lower-overhead independent stores to crop up again in areas formerly served by chain stores? In some places, probably; in other places, such as here in Evanston, where a massive Borders sits two blocks away from an even more massive Barnes and Noble, probably not. The 08 financial crisis and ensuing recession made it very apparent that many parts of our country were oversupplied with retail options, and perhaps Borders is facing the same ineluctable end that met Circuit City and Linens and Things and so many others. The most relevant questions before us being, perhaps: do consumers (as opposed to us publishers) need all these bookstores? And do we have the kinds of bookstores we need?
I’m thinking about this every day here. I’ve always liked Borders stores, though I think I liked them better when I was just a customer and not a supplier. I wish I knew what was going to happen.