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Borders Books, 12500 Dale Mabry Highway (Tampa) / 6837 Newberry Road (Gainesville): 2011   3 comments

Posted at 11:33 pm in out-of-area,stores

Although there were Waldenbooks in Columbia, I believe the closest that parent company Borders Books ever got to Columbia was Augusta Georgia, where they had a store in a strip off the Bobby Jones Expressway, near the I-20 interchange.

I first encountered Borders in Kansas City Kansas, on Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park. There were actually two stores on Metcalfe, but one of them was almost adjacent to the US Sprint building where I worked a number of projects over the years. (This was also the first place where I encountered Macroni Grill, which to date is the only place I've been where the Matitre-D requested a bribe).

Since I would be staying in a hotel not too far away, I would generally repair to Borders after dinner with local and other visiting co-workers, and it was something of a wonderland for me. First of all, it was big. This was the early to mid 1990s, and there was nothing to compare with a Borders in Columbia, and even less so in Fayetteville NC where I was living at the time. There were rows on rows in the Science Fiction section, with a deep back-list, and books and authors I had only vaguely heard of, including lots of archival small-press selections from NESFA Press and other specialty publishers. The history section was awesome, including even lots of Loeb editions of classics in Latin (no, I don't read Latin [beyond 'cogito ergo sum'], but the English was on facing pages, and these were the *only* editions of a lot of these classical authors). I had been on the Internet, and doing network programming since 1985, but this was the time period when the World Wide Web was just starting to break to a mass audience, and the computer section was huge, with books on all the topics I would never see in Columbia or Fayetteville. I would always come home from Kansas with a suitcase-full of computer books, busting both my back and my budget, but I never regretted it.

Even beyond the books, the magazine section was huge, and had obscure SF magazines that had either never heard or or assumed long defunct, and titles from every dimly-lit corner of popular culture, including film & animation, music and all sorts of unclassifiable little niches. There was also a coffee-shop in the store, which was an innovation I had not seen elsewhere. At the time, I could drink lattes until store closing at 11pm and still be up for work in the morning, and with a table of books and magazines, I often did. (Unfortunately, I can't do that anymore..). Obviously, I wasn't there on a consistent enough basis to see much of the programmed activities apart from the merchandise, but I did get to see a presentation by George R. R. Martin (who I had long known about, but who was just starting to become famous at the time), and speak briefly with him.

In time, the assignments in Kansas got less frequent, but projects in DC got more so, and Borders was there too. In contrast to Kansas, I usually would not have a car in DC, but after work, I would often take the Metro to the Pentagon City stop, have supper at Chevy's Mexican and then spend the rest of the evening until 11pm across the hall at Borders. Once more, I often came home from DC with loads of computer books.

DC was where I first started to get the idea that all was not right in the Borders world. The store, which had always been open until 11pm, started closing at 10pm on week-nights, making it difficult for me to both have supper and visit. It also seemed to me that the quality of the computer section was declining a little bit.

Of course, there were other factors at play as well. At around the same time, Amazon really began to break big, and suddenly, I could have any book I knew about delivered directly to me in just a few days. All at once, I didn't have to visit a big city to get a big-city selection of books.

Borders dealt with the Internet *poorly*. They made their worst decision ever while I was living in Aiken and working in Augusta. At that time, when the local Borders opened, it didn't seem that special. Columbia had Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million by then, and Borders while still my preferred store, was no longer on a different quantum level from everything else I had access to. At the time, all brick-and-mortar stores were trying to figure out how to use the Internet, and Borders' idea (after initially trying an ill-thought-out web site of their own) was to get Amazon.Com to handle their online business. I remember being flabbergasted when I read this bit of news. The proper analogy is hard to come up with, but it's something like Target telling K-Mart: Sure we'll help you out. We'll put a little door on the side of our store over here with your logo on it, and if someone comes into our store by that door, we'll put your name on the register receipt, but our sales staff and stockers will take care of everything.

Needless to say, everybody coming to the Borders online store, and using the Amazon interface, search system, credit card support etc became acclimated to the Amazon environment and just started using the regular Amazon store..

To add to having a stupid Internet strategy, Borders was unable to come up with an e-reader strategy. Amazon, of course, has the Kindle, while B&N (and B-A-M) have the Nook. Borders had.. nothing. I believe that in the end they did latch onto a second-tier (but OK) e-reader, but by then it was way too late. To make matters worse, a large non-book portion of their stores had been devoted to CD's and DVDs, and the complete collapse of the CD market left them with way too much floor-space for the money the stores were bringing in.

It was clear for several years that the chain was on a downward spiral, and that even if they got access to new financing, they had no viable plan to actually use the money to make the stores profitable again. Last year, I believe, they stopped paying their book suppliers. They could sort of do that, as they were still an important market, and the vendors knew that if they pressed the issue too hard and pushed the chain over the brink, their distribution would be drastically cut. In the end though, there was no alternative. Following some last-minute drama about an offer that didn't quite come through, Borders went Chapter 11 on 16 February 2011, with the last gasp in July 2011. They had already been closing stores left and right, but now started closing them all, and plan to have them all shut by the end of this month (September 2011). The web site is still up as of this writing, and claims this is the final week with savings of up to 90% on whatever is left.

The two stores pictured are both in Florida. The first is on Tampa's Dale Mabry Highway, and is a nice location with picturesque moss draped oaks. The second is in Gainesville, just off of I-75 (and not too far from UF), in a larger strip. I'm not sure when these stores closed, but suspect it had already been several months by August. You can see that the second is taking refuge in that cure-all for closed big-box retailers: The Halloween Store.

In the meantime, the fate book retailing is still very much undecided. Both Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million have reduced their hours in Columbia, and I'm not sure that in the end anyone with a physical store can compete with Amazon.

UPDATE 1 December 2012: The Tampa borders above is to become a medical clinic as the pictures below that I took in August 2012 show, and as the linked article provided by commenter Andrew tells:

Written by ted on September 14th, 2011

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