I recall the day I read about the trouble Borders and Angus & Robertson bookstores were in, that many of their doors would be closed. I was disappointed when I heard that REDgroup Retail, parent of the Borders and Angus & Robertson chains, were suffering a bleak period, and were unable to deliver what they needed in order to stay afloat. It’s particularly disappointing knowing that the retailer accounts for more than a quarter of Australia’s $1.5 billion book industry. But nothing prepared me for the way I felt when I walked into the Borders in Westfield Doncaster Shopping Centre.
Despite expecting and hearing that there wasn’t much left, in terms of actual stock on shelves. Walking in and seeing the typically orderly bookstore in the sad and sorry state it was in left me depressed and completely unexcited about the potential of finding a “bargain”. I love books, non-fiction, fiction, coffee table books, reference books, you name it. I have quite the collection myself, and need to think of a new way to display and store all my books to really do them justice. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing like wandering into a little old bookstore, or any independent bookstore for that matter, and picking up some pre-loved books, with each page carrying double the story, in particular classics. There’s a special place those independent bookstores hold for me, and while travelling in particular I could spend hours in a book store and be swept away in it’s architecture, the way the books are arranged, the range of books in stock and the stories that unfold with each turn of a page. On the other hand, there’s something special about purchasing a brand new book. That crisp feel of the pages as you turn them, and the mint condition of the cover.
Borders carries a wide range of books from all over the world, and was a go to when I struggled to find a particular book elsewhere. I must admit as I mentioned, I do love independent bookstores and was actually not a fan of Borders when it first opened up in Australia. However, the choice and range it is able to offer from all over the world has been fantastic and will be missed. Sure it’s online presence will continue to exist. But what about strolling into the double storey store, being swept away with the new books that have just arrived. Grabbing a coffee and sitting down and having a read, or smelling that coffee while you browsed for the books you were purchasing. Walking from genre to genre with ease. Maybe picking up a little trinket along the way – probably something you didn’t need, no, always something you didn’t need. Sure, maybe a bit overpriced, but that clock, notebook or mousepad just had such a cool design you couldn’t resist.
The damage for now, 16 stores will close and 9 will remain open in the whole of Australia. It disappoints me that the REDgroup is attempting to blame all their troubles on Australia’s sudden rise to purchasing online. Yes, we do love to purchase online, but this did not just start happening now. There are plenty of independent bookstores that are scathing about their claims and are still successful themselves. Unfortunately, I believe the Borders Bookstores could have avoided this from occurring. It’s plain and simple, they started off strong, but somewhere along the line their business model has been woeful and has lead to their demise. A Franchise owner who used to own an Angus & Robertson franchise for 25 years but chose not to renew mirrored my views on the REDgroup business model. He further went on to say that a lot of what he has seen and read so far refers to the situation with REDgroup being due to “…e-books, downloading, parallel importation, publisher’s prices. It’s really not. It’s the way they ran their business.”
As the Australian dollar is continuing to rise, there has not been an adjustment in pricing. That goes across the board for all products, not just books. I understand why Borders stores are closing their doors, but knowing why did not make any difference to how I felt walking into that store and seeing shelves upon shelves in different areas and genres, empty, completely empty. In some areas there would be some sad books left by themselves or in the wrong section or just piled up horizontally in a messy fashion on the shelf. Their homeware, gift section, DVD, CD, cards and magazines had also been pillaged. Things everywhere, out of boxes, upside down, sideways, scratched some damaged and in bad condition. Upstairs, well there was no upstairs. As I headed towards the stairs, the only thing that greeted me was some tape and a sign that informed customers that the upstairs section was now closed and any remaining books had been relocated on the ground floor, the only floor remaining. Sadly, this from a Borders store that would see perhaps the most traffic out of many of the others that are closing down in Melbourne.
I struggled to find something to purchase, but didn’t want to leave empty handed and finally found a cool mouse pad with an old school TV and walked up to the register. I was shocked with the final price I paid and did not feel good about this “bargain”, I actually felt guilty handing over such a small amount of money. I definitely didn’t find the design books I was looking for, and went on to share my feelings on the sorry state of the store with the lady at the register who reflected the feeling the store was omitting. Walking out the doors, I encountered something new, I left Borders with the polar opposite feeling I typically encounter after leaving a bookstore.