Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Happened to Borders Books?

For many years, I worked at Borders Books, Music & Cafe as a Children's Bookseller and Children's Event Coordinator. I loved my job. Really loved it. I started working at the store in Bangor before it even opened. I helped stock the selves, merchandise my area, and create fun events for drawing in customers. This was back in the day when Borders cared about customer service, about getting the customer the exact book they were looking for, and about hiring just the right "book-smart" people for assisting customers. I didn't just help customers, I formed relationships with them ... as did my fellow co-workers. It was a place to come to for Friday Night Jazz, famous author book signings, The American Girls Club, Homeschoolers Night, and so much more. We were an eclectic bunch of booksellers, music sellers and cafe workers too. Some men wore skirts, some other folks had all manner of facial piercings, some were working moms while others were retired military. And - for the most part - we all cared deeply for either books, music, great coffee or all of the aforementioned. But all this seems to have changed ...

Slowly but surely, (with the replacement of the former CEO), Borders has become nothing more than a "big-box-store". I haven't worked there for years now, but have always been a loyal customer ... and I have finally settled on the fact that the book shop I loved so well will never be the same again. All the dedicated book-loving employees are gone. The music department is almost no more. The coffee shop is now owned by another company. The registers are inundated with candy, cheap magazines and dime-store souveniers. The various fun nights of music and social gatherings are totally gone. And our once beloved children's department now looks like a toy store:

One day, Isaac and I walked into Borders, after just having been there two evenings prior, to find that what we used to call the "book cave" was now filled with all manner of "Made in China" toys. I was absolutely appalled. I asked to speak to a manager - who turned out to be one of the shift managers I had worked with before. I asked him what in the world was going on. He assured me that there were just as many books as there had been prior to their "toy store makeover" ... but truth be told - I don't believe him. There simply is no possible way. Everywhere I looked, there were toys - not books. I then asked him "Why?". He told me that the company had to sell what people want ... and they don't want books. SERIOUSLY??? What happened to America when people no longer want to buy BOOKS from a BOOKSTORE??? Am I that unique in wanting my son to grow up surrounded by books, music and social gatherings? In Bangor? I mean - Bangor was/is all about kids, community, social experiences, small-town gatherings, education, etc. What happened? And where was I when the change took place?

Needless to say perhaps ... but I am flustered by this. It has rattled me in ways I didn't know were possible. I want my old Borders back. I want some skirt-wearing man with a ring in his nose to help me find the perfect book for my Isaac. I want to drink my latte on a Friday night to the sounds of a local jazz band. I want to meet the latest local authors and have them sign my books. I want Isaac to be able to attend some fun kid-oriented gatherings --- like the old science club we used to run, etc. And I definitely want to buy BOOKS at my local BOOKSTORE!

Can you feel me people? What do you think? What is going on in your neighborhoods for better or for worse? And more importantly --- where do you find your books?



P.S. I am lovin' that my man is growing out his gorgeous curly locks (see top photo). Yummy.


Josefina da Fonte said...

I totally hear your pain. But if Borders' sold out (and they're a chain right?), then some business/community/book savvy local ought to revive that old community tradition and open an independent shop.
Here in Minneapolis, they sold out a few years ago. I'm actually surprised at your description of how the Bangor store used to be like (until recently?).

Missy said...

ditto what josefina said...borders sold out here long ago. :( my dream has always been to open a cute little book store...with a coffee shop and an adorable area for the kids to romp and play :) this might sound cheesy, but our local goodwill store is busting with books. i like to go there and browse the shelves.

i do love isaac's beautiful curls. nic is doing very well in school. i love when his teacher gives him big hugs at the end of the day.

ps, still waiting for Jesus Land....hurry up library :)

Mandie said...

I used to love getting the Scholastic flyers from school when I was a kid. They always had cheaper books that I could afford on my meager allowance. These days the flyers are filled with toys.

I used to bribe my kids that if they were good at the mall we would go to the bookstore at the mall but the bookstore is gone. We don't go to the mall now.

Jodi Renshaw said...


First let me start by saying I LOVE your name. My mom sometimes called me that when I was a child (not sure why) and I loved it. You are right --- someone should try to revive the old community tradition in Bangor. I know they would do well. As an example, someone recently opened an old-world Irish pub style restaurant downtown --- and it has been a huge success. It is one of my fave places to hang out now. As for Borders, I think they were selling out long before I noticed. But now that there is no turning back - I am aghast.

Anyway - thanks for sharing. I'd love to visit your neck of the woods sometime. I hear that Minnesota and Maine have alot in common.


Jodi Renshaw said...


That has always been my dream too!!! In fact, I have the exact location picked out ... but I keep reminding myself that I want to expand our family too ... and my photography ... so the bookstore/cafe will have to be on hold. Your babies are getting older ... maybe its time to start seriously going for it!!!! Anything and everything is possible with belief and commitment :)


Jodi Renshaw said...


I didnt know that about the scholastic flyers. Bummer! I wonder ... is it that demand for books has gone down ... OR is it that the promotion of toys (higher profit margin) has gone up ... thus creating an alternative to books and an increased demand in toys due to the overwhelming marketing of them. (Did that even make sense?).

You reminded me that our mall still has an awesome bookstore. It is a chain ...but hasn't sold out to toys yet. BUT the toy store in the mall closed --- so maybe it is only a matter of time. I will have to shop there asap to show them that we still want books!

Thanks for sharing.

Tara Rison said...

We have a Borders right up the street from us. The first time I visited (about a year ago), I thought many of the same things you mentioned: more toys than children's books and lots of junk at the cash registers. No thank you. I much prefer our small local bookseller, Blue Marble. It is so cozy and friendly. No coffee shop, but that is ok because they have lots of good BOOKS.

We got the American Girl pins today. My girls were so excited. They are perfect. Thank you so so much.

I also contacted Haitian Roots. We are working on something. Exciting! I will let you know once I get the official "ok". Thank you for the connection.

Both of your guys have great hair!

Amy Bradstreet said...

Hey Jodi, the only time we go to Borders is when some misguided family member has given us a gift-card good for the store. We never find what we want, they have so few books on the shelves. We've always been a die-hard indpendent, locally-owned bookstore kind of family. Here in York and Cumberland county, that means we head to Longfellow Books, Books, Etc. or Nonesuch Books, to name a few. We always enjoy stopping in at the Briar Patch and Bookmarcs and when in Bangor and always find a great selection of books and friendly sales staff.

Ethan Lambert said...

Have you noticed how few months now they remove an entire shelf or table of books downstairs and then spread the surrounding selves/tables around in an attempt to get no one to notice? They also seem to be putting no effort into basic upkeep of the store. I'm talking the torn carpet on the stairway that has been "fixed" with long strips of duct tape, the music listening stations that have been ripped out to leave ugly bare spots on the walls, and the lack of basic paint jobs upstairs where the music racks used to be (take a look and you'll see what I mean- as of a few weeks ago there was also a hole in the wall). All of this could easily be done for less than $1,000, so I can only assume than A) they are pathetically lazy or B) they have very little money. If it's the latter, I'd rather Borders just close now and let something like Barnes and Noble move in instead of slowly becoming a weaker and weaker shadow of its former self.

Jodi Renshaw said...

Thank you Amy. I think I may revisit some of my local book options. The last time I shopped there, BookMarcs was not as kid-friendly as I would like, but maybe things have changed. Briar Patch has an amazing collection, and I do shop there when I can afford to ... but that good ole Borders homeschooling discount as well as's amazing prices are sometimes too hard to resist. The Folk Festival is this weekend, so downtown will be a zoo --- but as soon as the dust settles, I think Isaac and I will revisit the two shops you suggest and see how we fare :)


Jodi Renshaw said...

Ethan ...

Thanks for stopping by the blog :) Boy ... you and I were always die hard Borders fans, eh? That is how my relationship to your family started.

Your comments about Borders are spot on. I too believe that the whole Bangor establishment is becoming a shell of its former self. Perhaps few cities had the kind of robust, entertaining, community-involved Borders that we once had. I am sorely missing it.


gretchen said...

I use BPL regularly, and Amazon (I have a Prime acct) for keeper books. Borders is everything it was trying so hard NOT to be when we worked there, isn't it?

Jodi Renshaw said...

Gretchen ...

You are SO right. We tried so hard NOT to be a "big box store" ... we even tried to unionize as I recall. But alas, the powers that be have changed everything we worked so hard for. I used to be very proud to be a Borders employee ... now I don't think I could ... unless my goal was to single-handedly change everything (ya right!). Do you know that people who have been with the store since the very beginning are now only making $11 an hour! I was shocked!!! And those are the managers!!!

Anyway --- we just got back from the BPL and LOVE it :) Maybe we will see you there soon.

We are also Prime Account Amazoners too :)


Panda said...

So I found this blog googling borders coffee in an attempt to find the brand of pumkin coffee I fell in love with years and years ago. When Borders changed I no longer would go in and it has only gotten worse.
If you remember the brand can you please let me know. I have been craving it for years now.