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Crossing the Borders


by Jerome Weeks 27 Oct 2007

Because I’ve been getting so many books delivered to my home the past year (note to self: dredge a path through the office library), I don’t visit my local Borders (Greenville at Lovers) as often as I used to. So the store’s complete layout change came as a shock this weekend. And not necessarily a […]

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Because I’ve been getting so many books delivered to my home the past year (note to self: dredge a path through the office library), I don’t visit my local Borders (Greenville at Lovers) as often as I used to. So the store’s complete layout change came as a shock this weekend.

And not necessarily a happy one. Yes, bookish people, and bookstore-ish people especially, tend to resist change. But two features that Borders has always had over Barnes & Noble in my estimation were its layout and looks. (A third one is that new clerks at Borders go through training to learn about books and the store inventory. On average, they tend to be more knowledgeable than Barnes & Noble’s clerks.)

The new Greenville arrangement is, I suppose, much more open and orderly with the rows of shelves no longer diagonal — they’re all squared off and ranked. But it seems infinitely duller, less cozy and nookish. It could be a food store. The magazine racks also now seem more tightly packed — more difficult to squeeze through, I found, if even just two other people are in the aisle. And, of course, all the cool graphic novels have been banished even deeper into the store.

But most surprising of all is that extra floor space has been carved out from somewhere else (the magazine racks?), so that the middle of the store now has a new digital equipment ‘display pod.’ Yes, there are online computers to use, you can buy and download music into your MP3 players right there, all very helpful to people who naturally visit bookstores to, um, do completely non-book-related things. But mostly, there are electronic gizmonics for sale: iPod accessories, compact DVD players, Sony’s electronic book reader, etc.

All rather nifty, but if I’d wanted to go to a Best Buy, I’d have gone to a bloody Best Buy. On the other hand — Best Buys do sell books. As do Wal-Marts and Krogers and tons of other retail outlets. One recalls Michael Moore’s remark in his film “The Big One,” when he’s scheduled to appear at some giganto-appliance-bookstore in the Midwest: Hey, come in to buy a novel and pick up a new refrigerator.

Such retailers have little to do with books but have significantly cut into booksellers’ business. So perhaps I should just chalk up all the appliance display at Borders to revenge competition — and hope it might prolong the life of bookstores.

Just as long as the stuff doesn’t take over the art books section.

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