Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I have a friend who is single mother to a now almost teenage son, and since it opened our chosen spot for hanging out was the local Borders – so we’ve been going there for around seven years I think. We chose it because her son liked it and could wonder around the children’s section with minimal supervision whilst we enjoyed coffee and gossip and a certain amount of humorous derision on her part regarding my book choices. Happy days. At one time we would go almost every weekend and almost always bought something. Since then the choice has declined and our buying waned with it. However plans for Sunday had already been made and they involved coffee, an unbiased and friendly discussion of everything our mutual friends had been up to… and the possibility of books – in short Borders.

The news that it was going into administration wasn’t a huge surprise. The signs had been there for a while, but that makes it no less depressing. We stuck to our original plans, but all three of us left the shop wishing we hadn’t gone. There is nothing edifying about a building full of people fighting over the scraps of a business whilst staff watch everything they’ve worked so hard on get torn apart. I’ve been in a similar position and still find the memory depressing; I sincerely hope the staff come out with decent payoffs because heaven knows they will deserve it by the time the doors finally close, and whatever situation Borders has got itself into, it’s in no way the fault of their generally excellent floor staff.

From the shop floor point of view it’s a frustrating irony that when a business goes down customers flock in, despite the fact that initial discounts are small – the 20% off most books at the weekend should still leave a profit margin – where were the customers when you needed them and running similarly generous discounts?

When it comes down to it Borders felt like it lost its way some time ago, and with it lost the interest of customers like me. There have been plenty of times I wanted to spend money, had money to spend, and couldn’t find anything to buy. I wish they had managed to get it right because although I think Waterstone’s is the better retailer I don’t like the fact that they have now become the only real player on the field/high street. It’s not healthy for anyone and neither is an over reliance on internet sources. Amazing as places like amazon are they can never replace the local Borders I remember in it’s hay day when it was defiantly a family destination; somewhere children where encouraged to engage with books and their own imaginations and somewhere that people like me could find both what I wanted, and things I never knew I wanted.

But the thing image that will now really stick with me is a line of half a dozen booksellers stuck at the tills working flat out and every one of them on the verge of tears as they deal with a public happy to get a bargain out of someone else’s personal disaster. A depressing way for anything to come to an end.


  1. I went to Borders at the weekend and was surprised to see everyone fighting over the "bargains" which actually weren't any better than internet prices.

    I too agree that Borders isn't quite what it used to be; I discovered it in 2002 when I came to Oxford, and it was a wonderfl place to while away lonely evenings. More recently it has been a refuge whilst waiting for the bus - I overheard several people saying that they would miss that.

    I've bought lots of things in Borders over the years; my favourite things were the wide range of magazines that they stock (better than WH Smith) and the calendars, always reduced to £1 at the end of January.

  2. I have a friend in Cambridge who went to his Borders yesterday and came out incredibly blue about the whole experience (although still with several books). He said there were people fighting with the poor sales clerks about how many books they had to buy to use up their remaining gift cards. I've worked in a bookstore before, and I feel so sorry for those employees right now.

  3. Oh dear, haven't heard of this in the US (Nevada to be exact)! I'll have to ask the next time I'm in the store!

  4. I'm with Barbara C - it seems that this closing of Borders is only in Britain. It is going strong here in the U.S. (I live in Boston, Massachusetts). I asked about their having problems last December and they said they were doing alright.

  5. Apologies, I should have made it clear it was Borders UK before spreading potential panic! I think the company split into 2 about a year ago, and the UK arm clearly didn't make it.