Feature: The Disappointing Loss of Borders Books and Music

I was a little stunned to see this sign in the window last night. I thought I had one more day to pick through the liquidators salvage, but alas it wasn’t to be. I honestly was a bit saddened to realize one of Fort Worth’s great retail entities had certainly passed along to that retail afterlife in the sky.

I realize most people aren’t too bothered by the loss of another big chain. Big chains are usually viewed as soulless corporate entities that have no other motive but to make money however they can, no matter what they have to do or compromise. I understand this. But when Borders Books and Music came on the Fort Worth scene in the early 90’s, it breathed a fresh life into the culture of Fort Worth.

The original Fort Worth location on S. Hulen (housed in the space now occupied by the most sterile Conns appliances) was a store like no other I had been in before. Upon announcement and during the application process, the crème of the areas music/book retail workers flocked to submit their applications. Not only was this to be a whole different atmosphere for selling and buying, they were looking for knowledgeable employees and weren’t afraid to pay for it, with stating wages hovering around the $6.00 per hour mark, which at that time was huge.

Once open, it was obvious this wasn’t Barnes and Noble, it wasn’t a mall retailer like their affiliates Waldenbooks, or even a Sound Warehouse, containing separate stores for its music and book stores as well as their cafe, the specialized employees stayed within their own realm. The sheer size and volume offered by the book department was overwhelming, while the music department was the size of a Sound Warehouse. Both departments housed titles that weren’t readily available anywhere else, and the company allowed and encouraged autonomy between their locations to allow for local flavor. All varieties of local publications from magazines to self-published books and a rather large portion of their music department dedicated to local artists made what should be a cold, heartless environment a warm, endearing place for Fort Worth to be welcomed.

While listening stations were becoming more and more popular in music stores across the landscape, and were sold to the highest bidder along with endcap features and merchandise positioning, Borders originally left this task up to their employees. Putting their knowledge to task, and their feel for their store, smaller titles had a chance of getting listening posts while being featured in high traffic areas of the store. In-store musical performances and book readings and signings were weekly events. One never knew what they might stumble across during a weekend or evening visit, accommodating such musical acts as TX favorites Slobberbone, Funland, Van Cliburn, Robert Earl Keen, The Derailers, Cory Morrow, Old 97’s, loungers 8 ½ Souvenirs, and national acts such as 10,000 Maniacs, Keb Mo’, Five-Eight and Southern Culture on the Skids, providing an intimate setting for fans to meet and chat with artists while getting a performance they might not get anywhere else. An early morning Pat Green in-store brought 500 plus to pick up his new record, Carry On in the spring of 2000.

Captain Kangaroo, Jimmy Carter, Kinky Friedman are just a few among the names who came through the store to meet and sign their new books for people or to speak. Let alone the scheduled events as diverse as classical music expert Punch Shaw’s monthly Meet the Music meetings, the weekly children’s book readings in the children’s area, and even periodical Star Trek meetings for fans. If you were into something, this store offered you an outlet.

Borders also had something I hadn’t seen in any other stores, a dedicated Community Relations Coordinator. Not only did this person book the acts/artists for in-store performances but was also the contact for the community – making donations, sponsoring events – in general giving back to the community that supported the store.

Unfortunately, like most things, it was too good to last. As the corporate environment grew, the autonomy of the stores dwindled. Soon listening posts and display space was for sale to the highest/quickest bidder. They made the brilliant move of cross-training all employees and taking them out of their element of expertise, booksellers in music, music sellers in books, and both sharing duties in Borders café, and vice versa, watering down the talent pool that set Borders apart from all others. The position of Community Relations Coordinator for each store was downsized into a regional position, hurting each community a Borders store resided. The giant classical music section housed in the music department gave up floorspace to DVD’s etc. The iconic S. Hulen store was finally closed and merged with the 30/Hulen location. All these moves took Borders to a more common ground with all other big chain stores, and finally they just became another archaic entity.

Had Borders chain closing decision taken place 10 years ago, it would be devastating. But, with today’s climate and the methodical dissection of one of America’s great hard media sources, it’s not as heartbreaking a loss as what Fort Worth had already lost.

I had the pleasure of working in the original FW location in 97/98 with some of the finest retailers I’ve ever known. The staff was indeed outstanding.

Goodbye Borders. At one time you were truly something special.


~ by thesynaptic on September 16, 2011.

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