Springfield, Missouri Borders on bankrupt chain’s closure list
There is a tumult in my heart about the Wednesday (2.16.2011) announcement that Borders will be closing 200 stores, including the location in Springfield, Missouri, the store in which Moon City Press first launched my novel Morkan’s Quarry.
The characters in my novel, the Morkans, owners of a limestone quarry in Civil War-era Springfield, would likely take a cold-hearted line on all this. Michael Morkan could easily see why a Borders at that Glenstone location would be one of 200 stores losing $2 million each day for the retailer. 25,000+ square feet of books right across the street from a Barnes & Noble store of equal square footage, that’s 50,000 square feet and surely lots of duplication. In those 50,000 sq. ft., think how many shelves HAVE to carry specific books that frequently sell—Harry Potter, The Twilight Series, the Da Vinci Code, and the like.
But walk-in, foot traffic markets have limits, capacities to absorb and demand any given product. In the heyday of giant retailers, back when Montgomery Ward still existed, and book buyers had few choices and no internet, such side-by-side offerings might have been sustainable. But this Starbucks-gone-wild passion for expassion came on after Montgomery Ward and lots of other retailers had already died and left fossils and empty shells.
The minute Morkan learned the space at Borders was leased, and the staff had to be paid an established minimum wage, and there would be no hope of free county prison labor… he would opt that every book in the place, every ISBN or SKU in retail parlance, be one that tears out of there faster than an opium and alcohol-saturated tonic (see energy drink) from a traveling medicine show.
There’s one source of the tumult: it is very hard to be unique and become a costumer’s favorite local bookstore when you have to carry what a corporate supervisor in Michigan chooses, items that can be sold to everybody. Giant scale, which can seem to the untrained eye a wowing advantage, becomes a deathtrap. And carrying all those hotcake items as your mainstay becomes unsustainable when your customer has already picked up The Chronicles of Narnia at Kroger or Sam’s or Wal-Mart at an humungous discount.
You have to finance all that space, and eventually pay some wholesaler or publisher for all those pretty books. And while Mindy from Koshkonong came in and bought the whole House of Night series, she won’t be back till next December. And Derrick who lives on Eureka Avenue in Southern Hills so very near your store… he can’t find a compelling reason to walk in when your store has nothing different on the shelf than what he finds discounted and shipped free at Amazon.com.
And yet, in honoring and working with Moon City Press, a small publisher at Missouri State University, and inviting me, one of its authors, in to sign books, that is exactly what Gary and the good people who worked at that Borders location aimed to do: Be a better local bookstore by offering something that spoke to Springfield. That is forward thinking; that is to my mind the only way bricks-and-mortar bookstores can get by. They have to offer their local markets special discoveries—items you would never seek on Amazon but now desire having seen them—and local stories. Plus they have to offer their local markets the chance to get a signed book or better yet to interact with the author, local or outworlder. Otherwise why pay the premium, the MSRP for the book?
Bookstores are recognizing that challenge right now all over America. Follow my favorite local bookstore, Lemuria, and its blog, and you will see.
Reading the articles in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, I find it equally distressing the large percentage, five out of six members of Borders senior, high-dollar executive management came not from the book industry (either from other bookstores or publishers), but instead from grocery stores and manufacturers and financial services industries. That CEO shine, that executive swagger, must really be seductive! I think you can read the late news of Borders and see a case history arguing against the allure of “outside, executive talent” for an industry that started cottage and in the future will likely be more cottage and niche than ever.
That really makes me sad for good booksellers such as Gary. Harried and hardworking, he made things happen or made sure that things happened in that Glenstone store. He was trying to make his bookstore local. But he had to face huge challenges and truly spastic corporate control. I’ll give you an example: Gary sold through every copy he could get his hands on of Morkan’s Quarry. And wisely before I left town that first week I was home to promote the book, he called me in to sign a bunch of new stock brought in to last him the summer.
Well, corporate strictures caused Borders to flush those from the floor and back to a wholesaler in order to pay bills. How do I know? Not long after working with Gary—him holding open each book while I signed and signed and signed on a sunny April Friday—those same signed, dated books bearing the Borders “signed by the author” red sticker showed up on a shelf at a small independent store, in McMinnville, Oregon! So all Gary’s hard, smart work to be local, all his thoughtfulness and sweat, was largely squandered for his store by the very company he was loyal to. Of course, Springfield’s loss was McMinnville and Third Street Books’ weird gain—here was a signed book ready on the shelf the day I appeared on the radio and in the Salem, Oregon, paper!
I am grateful that Springfield does have a bookstore of wise scale and one that has booksellers who recognized immediately the value of Morkan’s Quarry and of stocking it and having me sign copies. That’s Half-Price Books of the Ozarks also on Glenstone, but nearer Sunshine in the shopping center where the old Cat and the Fiddle used to be.
So while I am in tumult that good book people are being hurt and losing their livelihoods, I know that the act of sharing and selling an author’s work and local flavor goes on. You can walk in Half-Price Books of the Ozarks right now and see exactly what I mean by defined niche and cottage industry and proper scale. For the sake of books, readers, and authors, in the wake of another sad mess, I encourage you to find yourself a local bookstore, and then love it regularly.
(2.18.2011) I was moved to tears when I received this from the bookseller, Gary, the one I wrote about above. I quote it in full with his permission as response, and I am even more inspired at his bookselling spirit in the close of his note:
Thank you for the kind words. Yes, it is tough time around here and will be until we close the doors for good. We have a great store here with a great team..We got caught up in something that started years ago with poor decisions made at the top. Too bad we are the ones who pay the ultimate price. The big heads in the big house still have their jobs and livelihood while the rest of us pay for their blunders.. Jobs are tough right now and with no help or assistance from Borders we are on our own. This company is a huge dissapointment for myself and my team and the many other stores that are closing. We were literally kicked out. I have never heard of a company with so little passion and so much cruelty as this one. I do however cherish the fond memories of the customers, authors, and employees that I have had the pleasure of working with. That is what I take going forward. There will be better days ahead.