Borders to shut London flagship store

I read a short article in the Evening Standard yesterday evening that Borders was to shut its flagship bookshop in Oxford Street; after looking it up I discovered that four other Borders stores are to go, including Swindon, London Colney, Llantrisant and Blanchardstown in Dublin. I don’t know about Swindon, but Blanchardstown is part of an out-of-town shopping centre near Dublin, and London Colney must be an out-of-towner as well as London Colney itself is a village (although probably mostly a commuter dormitory nowadays) just off the M25 near St Alban’s. The Oxford Street closure seems sad, because as the Londonist blog says, “one of the few decent stores at the eastern end of Oxford Street is to close”. However, it has a certain logic to it.

That part of Oxford Street is full of fashion shops, and a fashion retailer is to take over the site. Borders has another shop in Charing Cross Road, which is about 10 minutes’ walk away, right opposite Foyles and a few doors down from Blackwells. People go to Charing Cross Road for books; they go to Oxford Street, it seems, for clothes. There is one thing Borders excels at, which is stocking British and foreign (particularly American) magazines. However, its bookshelves are generally something else.

Simply put, they are chaotic. You can never guarantee finding the book you want in its rightful place, because people take books off the shelf and read them on the sofas, or in Starbucks over a coffee, and put them back any-old-where, or not at all. In some sections, they often have huge gaps in their collection, which the issue of books in the wrong place exacerbates, of course. Their suburban shops in particular also don’t seem to re-order books when they sell, and let old books stay yellowing on the shelves. This is particularly annoying in the computer section, because books about Red Hat Linux 9 won’t sell in 2009. In fact, it would probably not have sold in 2005.

However, recent shelf rearrangements at Foyles, across the road from the Borders in Charing Cross Road, make their computer section even more confusing than Borders. Whose idea was it to put the Linux and general Unix titles several shelf units away from the few books on Solaris? Why are the programming books not together, so that Python and C++ are reasonably near each other? Why is there one section for blogging, featuring the books on WordPress, and a different one for the likes of Drupal and Mambo? I can understand PHP being near the web design section, but some of these decisions are plain bizarre. Why couldn’t they just have left things the way they were, i.e. at the front of the shop on the first floor, where they had been for years?

The trouble with bookshops, of course, is that one of their main functions recently has been as a free showroom for Amazon. People go into Borders or Foyles, look at a book, decide they like it and then, if they don’t absolutely need the book there and then, go home and buy it online. I’ve done this myself. This leads to the bookshops being used only for bargains, impulse buys and emergencies, with any book costing over about £10 being bought over the Internet. Perhaps Amazon should be paying the bookshops for this service they provide.

The Oxford Street closure is the tip of the iceberg, of course. Borders owns (or owned, assuming any of them still exist) Books Etc., which has closed many of its shops in the last couple of years or so (the Borders in Charing Cross Road was originally a Books Etc; ironically, that is not under threat at the moment). The Books Etc in Croydon was my refuge on a Saturday morning when I had gone to get my hair cut with Dad; he often goes to visit his parents afterwards, but 8am is too early to visit them, so we had to kill a couple of hours in Croydon first, so I spent at least part of it in the Coffee Etc part of the shop, reading their travel books or, perhaps, a newspaper. When I went in there late last year and found it was in the process of closing and that the café was already shut, I was gutted. Not because the Saturday morning post-haircut coffee-and-book routine would no longer be possible (it had already ceased, for other reasons), but because it made my old home town a much poorer place. I was pleased when I read that Kingston is not on the list of Borders shops that are closing.

Meanwhile, Londonist recommends finding an independent bookshop, but sadly Borders and Waterstones are the only shows in town, as far as I know, here in Kingston.

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