Friday, August 28, 2009
Borders -- I'll be honest with you, my contrarian streak against corporate chains runs deeper than the Marianas Trench. I'd rather eat at the seediest roadside diner than Chili's, Applebee's or any of those places. Give me a family-owned, single-location small business every time.
I do love independent bookstores, like The Bookhouse in Albany, New York or Northshire Books in Manchester, Vermont, or Crow Books in Burlington, VT. But I have to admit I love Borders. And I love it because of my addiction to comics.
Tom Spurgeon talks a little about the importance of Borders to the comics industry here.
For many years, the Borders location on Wolf Road in Colonie (an Albany suburb) was a nearly-weekly destination for me, carrying a dazzling array of graphic novels and a manga section you could comfortably fit a family of four into. When it closed a few months ago, part of a devastating one-two punch that also saw the closing of the nearby Garcia's (an unbelievably great Mexican restaurant), I was just about moved to tears at the end of an era for me -- my two favourite places to spend money in the Albany area were gone. Sure, there's a Borders down the road a piece in the mammoth Crossgates Mall, but I hate malls more than I hate Chili's (don't even get me started about Chili's in the mall), and besides, the Borders on Wolf Road was right near Garcia's, which is gone too. Garcia's had this one server, Sergei? He was amazing, always remembered what our whole family not only liked to drink, but our usual food orders, too. But I digress.
Borders. I hate that they're in so much financial distress. As Tom points out, you can feel it every time you go in there, at least I can, at least in some of the local branches. The Saratoga Springs Borders seems to be losing more and more inventory, and spreading out more and more of the displays and shelving in the hopes no one will notice the ever-increasing space where there used to be merchandise. If that store is there in a year, I will be shocked. If it's gone next week, I will be saddened. Borders has been so good to my comics obsession.
See, one of the key weaknesses of the Direct Market comic book distribution system has been that Diamond focuses much more heavily on floppy, stapled, 32-page comic books than it does on manga or graphic novels. So at Borders, I would often find a graphic novel I'd been looking forward to weeks before Diamond bothered to get them to comic book shops. This was especially true three or four years ago for publishers like Pantheon, although it seems like Diamond has gotten better at getting stuff into comic shops, as a result of the enormous shift away from stapled comics and toward books with a spine and a complete story. But when Borders had the shipping advantage, man, I'd be there every chance I could in my fevered obsession to see what's new and what's next in comics and graphic novels.
A year-and-a-half ago, I thought Borders was going to change the face of graphic novel retailing in North America. Then, of course, the economy fell apart and their economic woes were probably magnified tenfold. Now I wonder if Borders has any future at all.
As Tom notes, Borders has been pretty innovative and good for comics. I've probably spent thousands of dollars on comics in various Borders branches over the last decade, and despite my loathing of corporate shopping environments, I admit a huge fetish for the clean shelves and high ceilings and wonky, unique individuals you always find working in their stores. If the writing's on the wall and their days are numbered, I just wanted to take a moment to say that I really liked buying comics at Borders, and I've loved exploring the nooks and crannies of their other sections, too. I recently finished re-reading a hardcover edition of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, purchased on a hot summer day a year or two back at the Wolf Road Borders, with a 25 percent off coupon easing the impact of the book's high price, and I think the receipt is still tucked away in the book somewhere. I always save my receipts from Borders, not in case I want to return something, but to remind me of the day and time that I bought it. Because for me, every trip to Borders is worth remembering.
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