The Old Lady Who Lived In Borders.

On what’s becoming an increasingly rare occasion, I ran into my local Borders.  I was looking for a book by Steven Levy, “The Perfect Thing – How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness”.  His highness and the kids were in the car, and I was going to run into Borders for a quickie – in and out.  The entire trip took 27 minutes, (Admittedly, I have issues. I actually timed it).  The following is a breakdown:

  • 8 minutes, spent on the Borders kiosk searching for the book.  As it turns out, they didn’t stock it.   I was given the option to order it.  It would take 2-3 weeks?!
  • 4 minutes looking through the Paperchase section looking for a pencil sharpener.
  • 12 minutes at the counter waiting for a sweet elderly Lady named Ross to ring up my purchases.

The offender?  A box of tropical Mike & Ike’s.  They cost $1.99 and nothing this poor old lady did seemed to get the register to ring it up properly.  I was in no particular rush to get back to the car of screaming children, but as the line behind me started to swell, I became increasingly uncomfortable.  Ross was the only person at the any of the six registers.  She was also full of conversation.  By the end of our twelve minutes together, I knew a lot about her.

Ross doesn’t usually work on Sunday’s but they offered it to her and she needed the extra money.  She didn’t remember that the Grammy’s were on this particular night, and if she knew she may have stayed home.  Ross was hopeful that this Borders wasn’t going to go the way of the dozens of Walmart stores that recently closed.  Ross was, by her own admission, an optimist.   I started to shift and quickly glance at the line behind me.  At some point, they’d begin to realize the problem was my box of candy, and already self conscious about my ginourmous belly – I loudly proclaimed, “I don’t really have to have the candy.”

“Nonsense, it’s not your fault this computer is retarded.  Besides, if not you – somebody else”, Ross retorted as she logged into a second computer to look up the price.

I decided I wasn’t really in a rush, and we (me and all my line friends) could simply wait it out.

Later that night, thinking of that sweet lady and the future of my once beloved Borders, I did a bit of research.

Borders (BGP) is indeed in financial trouble, in spite of major shareholder, Bill Ackman’s confidence that bankruptcy is a ”low-probability event”.  His enthusiasm is reminiscent of the recently departed CEO, Ron Marshall, who similarly acknowledged in 2008 that his company had “lots of challenges”, while simultaneously proclaiming that it had the bones to become a world-class retailer.  The company hasn’t declared a profitable year since 2006, and since then has closed 112 of its Walden bookstores.  It is reportedly surviving on loans from Ackman’s hedge fund company, Pershing Square Capital Management, to the tune of 42.5 million dollars, due for repayment on April 1.  It’s surprising the company hasn’t closed down more stores or declared bankruptcy already.

Tomorrow I plan to spend some time researching the book-selling retail industry in general.  I don’t own a Kindle, but read many books on my Kindle iPhone application.  I am an Apple groupie and will be in line overnight if necessary to own a new iPad (3G, of course).  I will always long for and love the smells and comfort of a well maintained bookstore, but I equally admit an increasingly growing adoration for e-books.  The convenience is unparalleled.  At a time in my life, when being a pregnant, full time working mom, with two children under age 5 and an outrageously busy household means I no longer have a desire to keep up with the whereabouts of my book collection or its accompaniment of bookcases, book thongs and book-lights – convenience is an absolute must.

My thoughts wander back to that nice old lady in Borders, and while pondering the controversy, I began to wonder how many people I share this experience with.