Yesterday I paid what will likely be my last visit to a Borders Books. Here's a typical shelf in their store:
As you can see, things are about half-full, like some carcass partially picked over by a small flock of vultures. What's there is kind of in order, but not really. The staff seemed more interested in selling the tables and bookcases than in helping confused customers find books. And frankly, I don't blame them.
It was a melancholy experience for me. I grew up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Up through high school the only game in town were B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks. Nice stores for their day but pretty small in comparison to what we've become used to. I'm pretty sure the stores from my youth would only barely hold the regular fiction collection of a Borders or B&N, so when Borders first came to the area when I was in college it was like a revelation. And it wasn't just about size.
You mean you don't stick Sci-Fi into the darkest, loneliest corner of your store?
You mean you actually carry comics and graphic novels? Like on the shelf?
And you'll special order stuff for me and not sneer at me while you do it?
For the first time since I was a little kid I actually felt welcome in a bookstore. It was fantastic and I made a point to visit it every time I came home from college so I could stock up on pleasure reading for the semester.
As I've gotten (much) older and my tastes have changed I've found less and less by just browsing in their stores, but certainly more than I do when I browse their main competitor. Losing all of these stores will be a loss for many communities.
Take where I live: Prince George's County, Md. A suburb of Washington, D.C. Population of 863,420 and, according to Wikipedia, "the wealthiest African-American majority county in the nation". With the Borders stores closing, that sadly leaves all of two bookstores in the entire county. When the location in Landover shut down a few months ago it ended a series of weekly kids programs, teen book groups, adult book groups, an anime club, author readings, and a place many went just to read, write, and use their internet while sipping coffee. Say what you will about poor business decisions by corporate and ineffective competition, but around here I know book lovers will feel a real sense of loss when these stores shrivel up.