In April of 1983, Thackeray's Books opened in the Westgate Village shopping center in Toledo, Ohio. It was a nice, quiet place and the staff was friendly and helpful. If you wanted a book on an obscure topic - for instance, the War of Polish Succession (which happened between the War of the Spanish Succession and the War of Austrian Succession) - the staff would locate the obscure war history expert who would find you three detailed texts guaranteed to enlighten you providing you could remain awake while reading them. Thackeray's also had a full newsstand which I enjoyed and which is rare these days, although I think an actual news stand may have gone the way of the dodo bird while I wasn't looking. Thackeray's was a proprietorship, and like the dodo, the thylacine and the quagga, Thackeray's was just waiting around for a group of people to make it extinct. In May of 2005 Borders Books and Music of Ann Arbor, Michigan obliged. Borders arrival was heralded by the local scandal sheet as the greatest thing since the last greatest thing... McDonald's.
The thing is, a store like Thackeray's is good for the local economy. It's a proprietorship, so the money spent at Thackeray's remains in the local economy instead of leaving town to be used as fertilizer for the greener pastures we all see on the other side of the great divide. Thackeray's was also concerned about providing a wide selection of books and about customer service. You could find books from obscure small press publishers along with a plethora of self-published books, most of which were written by local ne'er-do-wells living in garrets. Best of all was the fact that if you had a problem you could speak with the ultimate authority, the owner. You might not like the result, but you could finally get rid of the authority and responsibility arguments that plague consumers today. Borders Books will not provide high quality service and their inventory is made up of main stream press. So, our service and choices got taken down a peg or two. The argument that favored Borders hinged on cheaper products, cheaper prices and a larger store. I'll give the owner of Thackeray's credit. He knew he couldn't compete so he sold out, and I don't blame him. He made the best deal he could and went fishing without an expectation of returning.
So what do I see in the Detroit Free Press? Borders to Shut Down For Good After Deal Collapses. From the article:
Borders Group, the 40-year-old retailer that started as a used bookstore in Ann Arbor, decided Monday to liquidate its remaining 399 stores, conceding a battle with competitors, technology and itself.
Borders was still growing its supply of massive superstores when people started shopping online. Then to replace lost book and music revenue, Borders started stocking more gifts, candy and impulse items. It also bought Paperchase stationery, stocking it in stores when e-mail had made handwritten letters a dying art.The main battles were with on line shopping and themselves. Consider the second quote about buying Paperchase Stationery. I don't know which executive thought that one up or voted for it, but the number of hand written letters that were written on stationery that I received last year can be counted on one hand, and that's because Mom has not learned to use email. If I discount Mom's letters, then things get easier to count. In fact, I can count the number of hand written letters I've received over the past ten years without taking off my shoes. Buying Paperchase Stationery was a great decision. Trust me, I know these things. So Borders is closing, and here's what really gets under my skin.
We, the Great Literate Unwashed, lost a bookstore when Borders opened up. Now Borders is going to close and the bookstore we lost, Thackeray's, is still gone for good. Tax revenue goes down and the quality of life goes down, and it did not have to happen this way. The fatheads the are busy running the local governments into the sewer system could have told the big box stores to take a hike. They didn't, and as a result our choices are limited to Barnes and Noble - another big box store that refuses to carry anything that isn't on the New York Times Best Seller List.
The same scenario is repeated many times in other industries, such as hardware, pharmacy, restaurant, home furnishings, fine jewelry - the list is extensive. If we want a better economy, the one thing we do not need are small business franchise or chain stores. We need proprietorships.