As you’ve probably heard by now, Borders, the second largest bookstore chain in the US, announced that it was liquidating the rest of its assets and going out of business. This is hardly a surprise to anybody paying the slightest bit of attention to the book industry, but it’s still a sad thing. After all, nearly 11,000 people, most of whom are blameless, are now out of a job and many communities are now without a physical bookstore of their own. I know a lot of people will say that’s no big deal now that there are so many places to purchase books online, but there’s something about wandering around the shelves, picking up random books and reading a few sentences, that makes discovering something new so pleasurable. It’s an experience that can’t be replicated online. It also means that there are less book buyers out there discovering hidden gems and delivering them to the masses. It’s not good for the publishing industry, or ultimately the reader, if the number of book-buying outlets keeps shrinking.
It’s not a particularly trendy thing in my line of work to say, but I really enjoyed shopping at Borders. It had a nice casual vibe and while the staff was and would answer questions (or at least try to), they mostly left you to browse and read to your heart’s content. I really hate overaggressive salespeople and there can be such a thing as too much customer service. And they had computers where you could look up stuff on your own. Why don’t more stores have that? Probably to force you to talk to overaggressive salespeople. And they sent out really good coupons every week.
As a vendor though, I pretty much hated them. They had the craziest accounting system that was clearly designed to avoid paying for anything ever. They would occasionally buy large quantities of a title, but would inevitably return many of those copies in really crappy condition. And they were constantly returning and demanding credit for stuff that we didn’t even publish.
However as a former employee my feelings for the company are a lot more mixed. The guys at corporate seemed to have no idea of how things actually worked at the store level and hired some (though certainly not all) managers and supervisors who had no business being around people, much less managing them. My stores (yeah, I worked at two different ones. It’s a little sad.) were also located in pretty well-off neighborhoods which resulted in a great deal of entitled asshole customers. They were super fun. But I also met a lot of really cool people, some of whom I still talk to despite the fact that I moved across the country, that made the horrors of retail bearable, even fun sometimes. I also took advantage of my awesome employee discount quite a bit.
So in honor of the closing, I thought I’d list some of my favorite, or at least most memorable, Borders memories.
- I kind of set the cafe on fire once. Let me just say that it was a result of a malfunctioning toaster and therefore NOT MY FAULT. I took this as a sign that I should never be allowed back in the cafe again, after all I don’t even drink coffee, but no such luck.
- A customer once told me that it was Borders’ new policy that if we didn’t find the customers’ books for them, then they got to kill us! When I answered “Pardon?” he replied “Yeah, we get to take you out back and shoot you!” I gave him his book and backed away slowly.
- A woman once asked for a children’s book with a picture of a basket of laundry. It didn’t have to be about laundry, just had to have that picture somewhere in the book. And I found one. We got vague questions (like I’m looking for a book that’s orange) all the time, but I think that this one was the hardest. And therefore, the most satisfying.
- We were the closest bookstore to the local county jail, and since people weren’t allowed to ship things directly to the inmates, it was my job for a time to send books and magazines to the prisoners. As you can imagine, it was mostly Playboy and that ilk, but I once memorably sent a Disney Princess paper doll book. I … don’t want to know what that guy (yes, it was a guy) was going to do with it.
- Creepy Kent would use his employee discount to buy “mature” dvds. It was gross. The rest of us avoided him as much as possible.
- We had a Harry Potter Birthday party sometime in that interminable period between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. We never had people show up for events like this, so we were expecting maybe 5 to 10 kids. Yeah, we had about 50 kids show up. While running around like a crazy person trying to gather more supplies, it occurred to me that Harry Potter wasn’t just popular, but a phenomenon. This was confirmed when we sold out of our 850 copy allotment of Order of the Phoenix two weeks before the book was actually released.
- My friend and coworker Joe thought he was an elf. The Lord of the Rings kind. And he wasn’t alone. Apparently there’s a whole community of people who think they’re elves out there! And they all wanted to move to a commune in like, Kansas, and be one with nature. I wonder if he ever made it there.
So what are some of your favorite Borders memories?