Bye-bye Borders

Borders died quietly last month, closing the last locations of the once-giant retail chain that dominated the bookstore business.

The demise of Borders went largely unnoticed in these parts because we didn’t have Borders stores in either the Roanoke or New River regions.

But Borders was already a big deal when it opened a store in the Tysons Corner area near Washington, DC, nearly 20 years ago.  Amy and I were among those who flocked to the “big box” store with its shelves crammed with thousands of books, a coffee shop  and large overstuffed couches that encouraged relaxing and reading.

That first opening in the National Capital Region spawned a dozen or so stores throughout the metro area.  Barnes & Noble also opened a few stores but Borders dominated the region.

Borders was among the first retailers to offer Wi-Fi Internet access. It wasn’t free initially but you could buy a package plan through T-Mobile that also worked at Starbucks coffee shops around the country.

Whenever I traveled, I could scope out a Borders or Starbucks to access the ‘Net, file stores or send photos.

In 2003, while Amy worked to settle her mother’s estate in Belleville, Illinois, I set up shop in the coffee shop of a Borders in nearby Fairview Heights and worked with a laptop and endless cups of coffee.

We missed Borders when we moved to Southwestern Virginia in 2004.  We shopped at the Barnes & Noble in Christiansburg or the one at Tanglewood in Roanoke.

I never understood the business model of either Borders or Barnes & Noble.  Both encouraged customers to browse and read books and magazines without buying. I would see people sit down with a cup of coffee at these stores and read through four or five magazines before returning them to the rack. Several folks we know go to the area Barnes and Noble stores to read the first few chapters of a book and then order the book at a discount online from Amazon.Com.

Borders began closing stores a few years ago, citing declining sales and lost business to e-books and online retailers. More than half the stores in the Washington, DC-area closed.

The last stores closed a couple of weeks ago. Books-a-Million bought some of the locations, Barnes & Noble a few others.

Another part of the past disappears from the scene.

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2 thoughts on “Bye-bye Borders”

  1. I first discovered Borders (the one in Tysons Corner, as it happened) in 1996 when I was dating someone from Northern Virginia. For years I loved it because they carried a lot of more specialized books that I couldn’t find in other stores, particularly in the fields of history and science. The one time I moved out of this area, I worked for six months at the Frederick, MD Borders until getting on my feet with a defense contracting job.

    All the way up until this past May, my last trip to NoVA, I would go to a Borders (most recently in Sterling) whenever I was in that area. But I did gradually see Borders change into a store like any other book chain, offering the same general stuff. By my last trip (during which I think the T.C. location had already closed) I sadly concluded that their bankruptcy was probably only a matter of time.

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