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Ding, dong, the witch is dead…

Oh, bless the man who wrote that song. (Harold Arlen, by the way.) It serves as a theme song for so many days in my life.

My kids and an unknown sailer in front of bookshop, Halloween probably 6 years ago. They were in costume, but I don't think he was!

The first time was when Richard Nixon’s obituary appeared in the paper. I didn’t mean to think ill of the dead, but I went around unconsciously singing that song until at some point, I wondered, Why do I keep thinking of that song? Oh.

Today it’s for the announcement that Border’s is going into Chapter 11, and they are closing their Santa Cruz shop.

Now, Border’s was my hometown bookstore when I was a kid. We lived rather far on icy Michigan roads from Ann Arbor, where Border’s had its one and only store, which had a three-legged dog named Tripod as its sentinel. However, not having anything like Border’s in our town, we adopted it, and Ann Arbor, as our own.

The original Border’s was very much like Bookshop Santa Cruz is now. It had two levels, with the upstairs open to the downstairs like a very large porch. I remember leaning over the banister, looking down at all the people who loved books. In my small town, I was weird. At Border’s, I was one of the book-loving crowd.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and Border’s was the second chain to move onto Pacific Avenue and take on our venerable Bookshop Santa Cruz. The first chain had been Crown, which opened a Super Crown directly across the street from Bookshop with a public declaration that they were there to kill our thriving local store. I remember walking down Pacific Ave. on a Friday night and peering into the fluorescent, metal and plastic interior of Super Crown. Occasionally a tourist or two would be in there, but otherwise, it was dead. The entire chain went belly up, and left Bookshop a thriving local store.

Border’s was more of a threat. Based on the original Border’s, the chain version had everything but the three-legged dog. Friendly, low-key lighting, wooden shelves, lots of books for intellectuals. It was designed to draw people like me away from Bookshop. I didn’t go. Apparently a lot of other people didn’t, too.

But a lot did. In responding to an e-mail from someone who will miss Border’s big selection, I laid out my reasons for not missing Border’s. Here they are:

Hi everybody — Just want to point out that you can order any book you want from Bookshop’s info desk or online on their website: http://www.bookshopsantacruz.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp . The website is pretty cool in that when you get to the shipping screen you can choose “in store pickup” — you get the convenience of Amazon.com married to the fun of going to your local bookstore.

From a publisher’s POV (I used to publish poetry books), I’ll tell you something about these big chain stores where “you can find everything you want.” Here’s how they do it: They put in huge orders from publishers whose books they know they won’t sell. They do it to pack the shelves and so that if someone is looking for something obscure, they’ll be so impressed that they found it. However, the books are not actually going to sell, and in their agreement with the publishers is the agreement that the publishers have to take back *all* of the books, no matter what condition they’re in, and refund *all* of the money! So publishers get these huge orders, have to fulfill them in order to keep up the relationship with the chain bookstores, and then end up getting most of the books back, often in unsellable condition.

Local bookstores can’t do this. All they can do is stock the books that they know will sell, plus some that they hope will sell, plus supporting their local authors and publishers even though they know they might not make their investment back in dollars. Then they can make ordering easy and convenient. But they simply can’t buy every book that you might want. Neither can Amazon.com. The way Amazon does it (as in, the way they screw publishers) is that they make publishers *pay* to have their books stocked with Amazon. No, the publishers of best-sellers don’t pay, but everyone else does. That makes Amazon look great, because they can ship anything within 24 hours. But it’s a false economy: the publishers sometimes don’t even make enough on Amazon to pay the storage fees.

One of the reasons that chains are failing is that they overstepped their bounds. They targeted thriving local bookstores like Bookshop and tried to put them out of business by investing in having lots of books at dirt-cheap prices. Both the lots of books and the dirt cheap prices would have stopped immediately had Bookshop gone out of business. First Crown tried it, and they went belly-up. Now Border’s tried it and they are going belly-up. They were trying to compete dishonestly in a market that, thankfully, more often than not (at least in places like Santa Cruz), rewards honest old salesmanship.

No, I’m not the least bit sad that Border’s is going away. But I’m not sure that this spells success for Bookshop. In an economy like this we all need to be vigilant about supporting those businesses we don’t want to lose. So many of us are pinching pennies and wondering where that extra bit of money we pay our local store goes. Why can’t they have the same prices Border’s did?

I hope my little rant above answers that question. If you want to read a more in-depth rant about why we need to pay a little more to keep businesses in our community, visit a previous blog entry, Talking the Talk, Clicking the Click.

Posted in Parenting.


One Response

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  1. Suki says

    I just wanted to send a quick note to say thank you for your recent blog on Borders and publishing. It outlined the issues so well and really dove to the heart of some of the challenges facing people who love books – authors, publishers, booksellers. I think few people know about Amazon’s bullying tactics and how it is more important than ever to understand that where you shop will have a profound impact on the creative and intellectual life of the future.

    Thank you for your thoughtfulness, insight and support.

    It is because of people like you that doing business in Santa Cruz is such a treat.

    Thanks,
    Casey

    Casey Coonerty Protti
    Owner
    Bookshop Santa Cruz



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