On the Closing of Borders

The local Borders is closing.

I went to the mall last night. Years ago, Owings Mill Mall was nice, upscale, nearly 100% occupancy. These days, it’s run down, junky, and vast sections of storefronts stand empty.

Mainly, I wanted to go to GameStop and cash out an old pre-order, which the employees wouldn’t do. I had to go to the website and get a coupon, they said. I genuinely doubt that’s true; I was a manager with EB Games and then GameStop, and I know what they told me could not possibly be true. I may have to pull some strings and call their district manager….

Then, there was Borders.

I’ve known for a while they were closing up. I stopped there on Christmas Eve, and they were running a “Going Out Of Business” sale that day. I bought some books that day, asked when they were closing, and they didn’t know. “Mid-January, I think,” the young woman behind the counter said.

I went back the day after Christmas and bought a LEGO book I’d wanted. Castles. LEGO Castles are awesome.

I was back there last weekend. The store, which was still largely full on the day after Christmas, was last weekend empty in vast areas. The books from the back half of the store had been brought closer to the front. The discount, which had been at thirty percent, had increased to fifty percent.

I was back there last night. I bought a page-a-day calendar for the office. I need a page-a-day calendar. A wall calendar isn’t enough.

I also bought Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.

I was browsing, rather aimlessly, and there, in the midst of the social sciences books, right near a copy of Going Rouge (not a misspelling), was The Right Stuff.

Despite having easily seen the movie fifty times over the past twenty years, I’ve never read the book.

At fifty percent off, I couldn’t pass that up.

It was sad to wander around Borders. I’ve shopped there for at least a decade; it was the closest bookstore to my grandmother’s house. I bought the novelization of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s “What You Leave Behind” there. I bought the first two books of the Double Helix mini-series there. Those were a long time ago.

It used to be a nice store. Soon, it will be just a memory.

4 thoughts on “On the Closing of Borders

  1. Firstly, I did get your message, Jack. I’ve just been buried under work the last two weeks that I’ve barely had time for anything.

    As for GameStop…

    Our story begins a long time ago. I went to the local GameStop and pre-ordered the Fable II Collector’s Edition. Time passes. The game came out. GameStop never fucking called me. If they had ever called and said, “Dude, your game is in. Come in and pick it up,” I’d have come in and picked it up. Even though there wasn’t anything collectible about the Fable II Collector’s Edition, as they went and took all the collectible stuff out of it.

    Eventually, I got tired of waiting. And rather than redeem my pre-order, I bought it in June, used, while in North Carolina, from a store that I helped to open, from a manager that I helped to train. I even bought the strategy guide. And a couple of Nintendo DS games. And Halo Kubrick figures.

    Ironically, I’ve still not put Fable II in my 360.

    Years ago, not long after the merger became final and the management teams were merged and the districts were merged and EB stores got renumbered, we had our weekly conference call. Rodney, the District Manager, had been looking at some reports on pre-orders. He found it puzzling that his EB stores had pick-up rates on pre-orders of eighty-percent plus, while his GameStop stores had pick-up rates of under fifty percent.

    “Allyn,” he said. “You had ninety-five percent pick-up on this game. Sean had thirty-three percent pick-up. What are you doing?”

    “Well, Rodney, I call my customers and let them know I have their game.”

    “Sean, are you calling your customers?” asked Rodney.

    Let me be blunt. Sean was a tool. If GameStop did it, it was automatically right. If EB did it, it was automatically stupid. And he tended to be condescending to everyone on the conference calls. “No, Rodney, GameStop had an automated service, and it calls our pre-orders.”

    “Sean,” I said, “be that as it may, I think we’re making a mistake if we’re relying on an automated service to call our customers. Machines make mistakes. If you print out a pre-order slip, tape it to the game, and call the customer, you know whether or not you’ve made contact with the customer. You know if they’re coming in to pick up the game because you’ve talked to them.”

    Now, in Sean’s defense, he had a good reason not to call his pre-order customers, and I learned this rather quickly once the GameStop system for stocking stores became apparent. If he called his customers, he had to hold onto their game and he couldn’t sell it to a walk-in. If, however, he didn’t call his customers, he could sell their game to a walk-in customer. And since GameStop didn’t stock their stores for walk-in customers, the GameStop culture was that it was better to make a sale to a walk-in with money in their hand than to hope that your pre-order customer came in and picked up their game.

    Don’t get me wrong. Dave Soltysiak had always talked about the benefits of “playing the float.” You knew there were one or two pre-orders, or a certain percentage, you could sell to a walk-in customer, confident in the knowledge that the home office would restock you in a day or two. GameStop, however, didn’t stock their stores for walk-ins at all. You couldn’t be guaranteed of ever seeing a game again after it sold out. And since you didn’t want a customer to walk, it was better to burn a customer you might never see, despite the money they’d put down, than to let the customer go to Best Buy.

    Long story short, I never got called about Fable II.

    Until a few weeks before Christmas, and I got a phone call from GameStop telling me that I had an outstanding pre-order. Which I knew I did.

    So I went into the store, my receipt in hand, and tried to cash out the pre-order.

    Whereupon they told me that “After a year, your pre-order goes into corporate and it gets taken out of the system.”

    Now, we did that at EB Games every six months. We’d cash out old pre-orders. (I’ll never forget the time I did that at Crabtree in Raleigh, because it had clearly never been done there.) But there were ways of handling this if the customer came back in, receipt in hand. (And considering that I know they’re using the EB POS, I could even have walked them through how to look it up, if there was a cash-out.)

    However. I know that GameStop doesn’t cash out old pre-orders. First, it would negatively impact a store’s ranking. Second, I was in that store shortly before Thanksgiving, and one of the employees was bragging to a customer about how his store still had over two hundred Halo 3 pre-orders that hadn’t been picked up. Seriously. Halo 3? That came out two years ago?

    There were two reasons I could see why the guys didn’t want to cash out the pre-order. I’ve been in the game too long, I know when someone’s bullshitting me from behind the counter.

    One. There was a woman who came in, right before me, who was trying to do the same thing, cash out an old pre-order. Only she didn’t have her receipt. And since they’d already told her they couldn’t cash hers out, it would have looked stupid for them to let me cash mine out.

    Two. They just didn’t want to take the hit on their store rankings by canceling out pre-orders.

    According to what I’ve heard, GameStop field management wasn’t happy that the company decided to give old pre-order customers their money back.

    Anyway, I gotta drop Rodney a line and see if what they’re telling me is true. Because unless something’s changed radically, I know it’s not.

    I don’t want store credit from GameStop. I want my twenty-five dollars cash back. I want to be done with that company.

  2. A few months ago, a local Atlantic book warehouse was closing. A huge,eh, warehouse of books. Tons of stuff, some great prices. I had been going there since the mid-90’s, and now it was going out of business.

    Pretty sad going there on the last day. Shelves were clear, stuff in disarray, and I walked around thinking that this was the last time I would be in this building, in this store. I remembered some of the times I went there, some of the more memorable books I purchased. I know what you mean, there’s a sort of unusual sadness that comes with the closing of a store like that.

  3. I used to work at a Waldenbooks as a “keyholder” (owned by Borders) in Orlando, Fl – the store I worked at went out of business last year.

    A lot of people came up to us at the counter and said the same thing that the author of this article is saying. That it used to be a nice store, that it is just a memory now, etc. It is a shame that this will continue else-where. It sucked for me because it was a great part-time job for me. The people I worked with were interesting and fun (for the most part), I was surrounded by books, and I enjoyed what I was doing.

    When our store closed, it was a shock to all of us, even my manager. We were making our sales goals nearly every day, usually we were over the goal. I even asked my manager if we would still have our jobs come next year (this was about a month before we got the news of our closing) and he confidently assumed we would. All the odds were stacked in our favor in terms of sales. But once the lease ran up – that was all she wrote (no pun intended… ok, maybe a little). So basically they gave us the axe in an attempt to relieve themselves – financially speaking and I am no expert but it doesn’t look like it has been paying off since they are still floating around 1.00 per share.

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