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Borders closes: 10,700 workers to lose jobs

Borders will begin to close some of its stores as early as this week.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Borders will begin to close some of its stores as early as this week.

After 40 years in the business, the national bookstore chain Borders has officially called it quits.

When the Michigan-based bookseller declared bankruptcy earlier this year, it tried to find a buyer who was interested in keeping the chain alive.  But it wasn't able to do so. In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Borders said it would sell itself to Hilco and Gordon Brothers, a liquidation company.

The liquidation of Borders is making headlines across the state and around the country:

What happened?

When it comes to "why" the second largest retail bookseller in the nation went under, everyone has an opinion. Some say e-books and Amazon hurt Borders, others say bad management is to blame. Dennis Johnson, who runs Melville House Publishing in Brooklyn, NY, says Borders' liquidation boils down to bad business decisions:

"First and foremost, it's a real estate story. This is the aftermath of the real estate boom of the 1990s, when Borders and a lot of other companies and individuals bought a lot of way overpriced space as fast as they could, so that when economy faltered they were in way over their head."

Jane Freidman, a professor of electronic media at the University of Cincinnati, says Borders demise has less to do with real estate and bad management, and more to do with the reality of the 21st century:

"It’s a big sign of the larger transition we’re all making to digital books and digital reading devices. So we’ll probably see a further decline of the bricks and mortar stores and further movement away from people reading print or paper books and more people adopting digital devices.

Perhaps the most telling piece of news came in April, when Amazon announced it sold more ebooks than print books in the U.S. - the first time since the Kindle was introduced.

What's next?

The nearly 11,000 people who work at Borders will lose their jobs - some as early as this week, when Borders begins to close some of its stores. Borders currently owns 399 stores, down from more than 1,200 in 2003.

Steve Amick is an Ann Arbor native, and the author of "The Lake, the River, & The Other Lake," and "Nothing But a Smile," both of which were sold at Borders stores nationwide. Amick remembers fondly his time spent at the flagship Borders bookstore in Ann Arbor when he was a kid. He says it was "where you went to find out about books you didn’t know about. It was like walking into the internet, before the internet existed."

Amick wishes he could say the demise of Borders means more independent bookstores will pop up, but he doesn’t think that’s the case. "I think bookstores more and more will resemble bookstores at the airport," predicts Amick, where most of what’s offered are cookbooks, vampire novels and celebrity tell-alls.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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