Certain places have a distinct hold on me. When I visit them, I feel a force begin to work in me. It isn’t some rapturous pull beyond explanation, but it is visceral and profound. After arriving, my mind is drawn to grand ideas and I enjoy a rich sense of purpose. Recently, one of my favorite such havens decided to shut its doors forever.
The announcement that Borders was going out of business did not surprise me. As a devoted customer, I’ve watched the steady decline. Yet, for many of us loyal patrons the official announcement brought on grieving. I am not interested in debating why Borders is closing. Everyone involved pretty much agrees on the reasons. Instead, I want to recount my attempt at a fond farewell and the disquieting realization it produced.
After hearing the news, I resolved to take one last visit to my local Borders, a spot I’ve heretofore visited regularly. Occasionally I didn’t even buy books. In addition to club gatherings, I sometimes just went for the in-store café and the…well, the comfort.
When I got out of my car, irony slapped me in the face. Only in its death throes did Borders discover the secret to enticing the masses. What’s the trick? Offer the same discounts you’ve been giving for years via loyalty programs, but preface them by saying you are going out of business. As the image above demonstrates, say you are dying and the vultures come to feast.
Another burst of disappointment hit me once inside. The store’s café was already shut down. So much for one last performance of my cherished ritual: leisurely browsing; giddily buying; then happily sipping a white chocolate mocha while leafing through my purchase. Somberness was quickly supplanted by acute aggravation.
In search of familiarity and comfort, I took a well-worn route through sci-fi to visit the Arthur C. Clarke selections, even though I already own them. Then I stopped by the Climbing shelf. I don’t climb, but that didn’t stop me from developing a Mt. Everest fetish two winters ago—one of many times Borders nursed me through a craving. Unfortunately, scanning favorite shelves offered no satisfaction.
Soon I found myself in the Science section hoping to score a Carl Sagan book on the cheap. There was just one problem. My view of the shelf was eclipsed by another shopper. This had already happened several times during my visit, as I negotiated the clearance sale bustle. Normally, I feign scanning a neighboring shelf until the one I want opens up. This time I just stood awkward and impatient a few feet away, waiting for the guy to move on.
Finally, after what was probably only a minute, the other shopper left the section. I immediately saw two Sagan titles I’d been wanting. Yet my sour mood reigned. Even on clearance the books were a mere 20% off. Borders used to give me 40% off with e-mail coupons. At that moment, I knew exactly why I wasn’t enjoying my last visit. In fact, there were two reasons. This first was you.
That’s right. All of you Amazon-ophiles out there ruined my goodbye. How? By finally showing up. For years, you’ve done me the courtesy of staying away, ensuring open aisles and tranquil reading areas. In fact, Borders had become a better spot for meditation than the library.
Acrid describes the taste of this realization. The main symptom of Borders’ sickness was the chief ingredient in my affection for the store. That leads to the second reason I disliked my final visit: me. Had I really just balked at purchasing works by a favorite author because they were only 20% off? I had. What does that say of me?
At some point in my troubled reflections, two old friends happened by. We visited for awhile without feeling rushed—a typical experience when meeting up in Borders. We smiled warmly and exchanged empathetic eye contact. We held up our selections to handle and compare. Our nuanced expressions, the inflections in our voices, the hug goodbye, all added up to treasured fellowship—the kind that occurs in person.
In the days since, I’ve stewed over my contribution to Borders’ decline. I’m as guilty as any online shopper, having grown accustomed to always getting steals of deals. Discounts of 30% or more are simply unsustainable. In the case of publishing, they make it ever more difficult for even excellent authors to make a living. How does the saying go? I never said it would be marked down; I only said it would be worth it.
There will be an important test for me soon. There are still other bookstores with enjoyable shopping environments. Before long, I’ll get the urge to visit one in search of creature comfort. When the urge hits, will I opt for the biggest discount I can find (likely on the Internet)? Or will I—as I hope I will—make the investment in the thing I claim to love? I hope I pass that test.
How about you? What merchants have you developed attachments to, and why? Does loyalty ever supersede searching for better deals?