Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Salon: Borders

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Borders is going out of business, kaput, liquidating, disappearing forever. Other people have written about the effect this bankruptcy will have on the future of bookselling and why this is something to mourn. Their elegies are lovely and many but I'm still going to add my voice to the choir. Losing a bookstore is always a bad thing and you have to feel for the dedicated folks who are losing their jobs. Those feelings did not keep me from heading over to my local Borders (which I did support while it was in business, I might add), list in hand now that books are marked down to 70% off the cover price. I felt a little (okay, a lot) like a vulture picking through the books. The thrill I felt at finding so many on my list was coupled with a slight nausea and sadness over being present at what felt like not just a funeral but an interment. As I scoured the shelves, I saw loads of wonderful books I wanted to pull out and rescue. (This impulse is why I cannot go into pet stores either.) At the very least I wanted to push them into the arms of my fellow vultures.

So I was already in a sort of elegaic mood when one of the women who worked there started trying to rearrange the shelf I was looking at back into some semblence of alphabetical order. It was a futile effort, of course, and I have to admit to feeling a slight irritation that she had to swoop in as I was looking closely at the titles on that particular shelf. But my irritation ebbed away to horror as the innocuous older woman browsing next to me opened fire and took the poor employee to task. Her opening salvo was, "Oh, so it's not just the customers messing up the shelves." Now, had this been accompanied by a chuckle or even a grin, it might have been ignorable but she then segued into a 10 minute complaint/tirade about how several days ago when the books were only 60% off, she had been in and found some shelves that advertised an additional 15% off on top of the 60% and so she had found several books she wanted there. When she took the books to the cash register though, she was not given the full discount, which she was careful to note that she had figured out in her head. Instead of the 69% discount she expected, she was only given 66%. And this went on and on with the poor cornered employee trying very hard not only to get a word in edgewise but to also remain civil. But the grumpy old lady was relentless. After literally 10 minutes of this, she finally closed with, "You shouldn't advertise it if you don't intend to honor it. I figured it out in my head at the register and double checked when I got home and I was right."

I am a little ashamed to admit that I did not step in while the woman was ranting away to remind her that this was a liquidation and therefore bargain basement prices already, the employees had no control over on which shelves the customers might wrongly stash things, that the register made any perceived errors rather then the henpecked woman on whom she was taking out her wrath, and furthermore, that this long-suffering employee was losing her job in two weeks or less and was still treating the nasty woman with far more civility than she deserved. I did, however, tell said employee, once the bitter grouch had walked away, that I was very sorry she'd had to endure that and that she had been far kinder than I would have if I had been in her position. Several other people in the area, also complimented her on her composure and then we all stood and sympathized when she admitted that the liquidation had brought out the worst in people and that the employees had been having to endure some truly terrible behaviour from customers. The things she described, the employees sobbing in the break room, people tossing books to the floor, the arguing over prices, etc. made me want to weep. I always thought book people were generally nice, unassuming folks. Don't get me wrong, I worked in a bookstore myself 15 years ago so I am well aware of the we'll be polite and call them pitfalls of dealing with the public in a retail capacity. And I know that not all book folk are civil and decent. But I somehow had hoped that the majority were. So I am mourning not only the demise of Borders and the uncertainty of all their former employees lives now that they are jobless, but also the loss of my own illusion that I am a member of a generally good tribe. Among the many lessons that the failure of Borders has taught us, take this one away too: step back out of your selfishness and strive to rejoin that kind, good tribe of people. The world needs less of the nastiness and more understanding and compassion, in stores, in your neighborhood, and in all areas of your life.

As for my Borders haul? Well, I walked out of there with 43 new books (only two of which turned out to be duplicates I already own) and saved a record setting $549.01. I might have mortgaged the house in return for so much of their inventory. I'm thrilled to have so many new goodies in my collection but I truly do think I'd rather have a world where Borders didn't fail than have all the books right now.

My reading adventures this week took me to Africa during the Happy Valley era, taught me the history behind type and fonts, pulled me along as a not very appealing young woman finally came of age, and as two very fearful parents confronted the kidnapping of their son by facing the secrets in their pasts. Where have your book travels taken you this week?


  1. Politeness is one of the top things I admire in others and like you I can not stand rudeness. I see far too many people with an attitude of entitlement and disregard for others.

    Reading this post made me glad I have not worked in retail for many years!

  2. I'm trying to do the math...I can set up the problem, I think: 70% of n = 549. Then,
    n - 549 = Total amount spent, let's say y....And if you divide y by 43, that still doesn't tell me where you are going to put these additional books.

  3. People suck. I have heard people seriously bitching about how low the discounts have been thus far at the GOOB - they were apparently expecting 90% off the first week after the announcement - but when I've explained that of course the liquidation companies are supposed to get the most money for the remaining stock as possible for all the debtors, they reluctantly have agreed. And these aren't poor people!

    I am very glad you spent more money than I did. Although if you add my trips together I still have you beat.


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