As much as independent booksellers may have wished that Borders had gotten swallowed up back in the 1990s when it put so many stores out of business and was well on its way to becoming a 1,249-store behemoth, the response to its impending demise has, for the most part, been measured.
“My personal feeling is, I’m sorry to see a showroom for books go away,” says Steve Bercu, CEO of BookPeople in Austin, Tex. “I really believe that there’s no way to replicate a physical showroom for books with anything online.” As for a direct impact on his store, Bercu anticipates that the final death knell will have none. BookPeople has had a good summer to date, up 3% over last year, which was the best June in the store’s history.
“Any time a bookstore goes down, it hurts the entire community,” says Wyatt Wegryzn, co-owner of Bookworks in Albuquerque, N.M. He bought some fixtures from the two Borders stores that closed earlier in Albuquerque, but their closing hasn’t made a big difference. “They’ve done business their way, and we do business our way,” he says. Sales have been on a par with the past five years; Borders has not been a factor.
For Jennifer Doucette, manager of Books on the Square in Providence, R.I., a nearby Borders in the Providence Mall has had little impact, and she doubts its closing will affect her business either way. “Our store is really blessed,” she says. “We’re in a great neighborhood with lots of families walking around. We’re up, just a little bit, and we just renewed our lease for another five years.”
In the short-term for independents near closing Borders stores, which will have 16 weeks of closing sales starting Friday, the picture will likely be worse. “What troubles me,” says Susan Novotny, owner of Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany and Market Block Books in Troy, N.Y., “is having them in a constant state of giving away books.” She worries about “a hang-over effect” from customers who are booked out. “My local Borders hasn’t been an issue until now,” she says. “It’s been bad enough for the past 24 months to deal with the recession. Sales continue to suck.”
Some, like Chuck Robinson, co-owner of Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., worry about a further ratcheting of credit. Village books has never not paid a bill, and still gets calls from credit departments, he says. At Skylight Books in Los Angeles, general manager Kerry Slattery is concerned that because publishers have lost so much money, they’ll put even more pressure on indies to pay on time.
Although it’s too soon to know whether Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or indies will benefit most from Borders’s closing, some, like Steven Baum, president of Greetings and Readings in Hunt Valley, Md., anticipate a strengthening of the independent channel over all. Certainly that’s the view of the American Booksellers Association. “ABA is not only bullish on bricks-and-mortar bookselling, but we see opportunities for our current members to expand and for new stores to open. We are optimistic for our industry and our channel,” ” says CEO Oren Teicher, who notes that independents have maintained a stable market share despite the unstable economy.