Because Life with Kids is Sticky...Very Sticky

Lucy Mercer

Lucy Mercer
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
December 31
I cook, I write, I carpool. You may also find my words at A Cook and Her Books. Email acookandherbooks@gmail.com. Thanks for visiting!


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Editor’s Pick
SEPTEMBER 8, 2011 10:44PM

Denouement for a bookseller

Rate: 28 Flag
Borders press pass lanyard and earpiece. Lucy Mercer

This weekend, I’ll pull my last shift as a bookseller, and if God is with me, my last retail shift ever. My Borders store hasn’t flatlined yet, but it’s just a matter of days, and I’ve decided to hang up my lanyard and radio earpiece early. I'm worn out and worn down by the customers, most of whom are bewildered and bitchy while picking apart the store. "When is your last day?" they ask. "When are the next discounts?" "Can you hold this for me?" "Do you have 'The Help?'"

Borders #376. Lucy Mercer

I’ve worked at store #376 for nearly three years and the Angel of Death has hovered over the store the entire time. Outsiders have an “84 Charing Cross Road” idea of booksellers, that we read on the job and hold forth on Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky if ever given the chance. Well, the truth is, during my tenure, reading on the job at Borders was considered stealing from the company. And most folks wouldn’t know Tolstoy if he walked up and introduced himself. The job was mostly about getting product on the floor and getting customers to the product they needed, and in some cases, didn't know they wanted. Along the way, there were titles we were told to push in order for the company to get some slack from the publishers, and within the past year a rewards program that was a good value for the early subscribers, but not so for the last to sign up. People will say that the Kindle killed Borders. The truth is more complex than that - overexpansion during the height of the real estate market; five CEOs in five years, none of whom had bookstore experience; a corporate culture of waste. I could go on, but what's the point? Maybe someday, someone will write an e-book about what went wrong at Borders.

Shakespeare was here two weeks ago. Now it's fixtures awaiting pick-up. Lucy Mercer

 I'll miss many things about my job. My colleagues, who put the "q" in quirky. Some are long-term friends, from a previous independent bookselling gig, and some will continue to be my buddies. We get each other's jokes, something that has to do with not wincing when a customer asks for "Withering Heights" or mispronounces Albert Camus. I'll miss, too, the privilege of being around so much reading material. While reading on the clock was frowned on, reading on your lunch break was considered a right and the greatest perk of the job. I'd grab the latest magazines and newest cookbooks to peruse on my lunch hour. My friends and I would huddle around the table in the dingy breakroom, feeding our reading habits and ourselves.

Childcare/Psychology/Self-Improvement. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

I’ll miss the regulars, the pre-liquidation customers. I'll miss the precious bookselling moments where you sell a preteen her copy of “Are you there, God, it’s me, Margaret?” or a new mom “The Velveteen Rabbit” or a newly pregnant woman “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” Bookstores are for ages and stages and now the experts tell us that the new age demands books via byte. I don’t buy it. I think there will always be a market for tangible, dust-gathering books made of real, tangible, forest-clearing paper. Gutenberg had a good thing going. We hope that a chain like Books-a-Million will find our suburban county and realize what a great location it is for a bookstore.

 In 2006, a few years before he passed, John Updike addressed the BookExpo convention in Washington, D.C. His speech focused on Google’s plan to digitize books and how that would influence the writer; it ended with a call to arms for booksellers.

The full text of Updike's speech can be found here, but my favorite part is near the end: “Books traditionally have edges: some are rough-cut, some are smooth-cut, and a few, at least at my extravagant publishing house, are even top-stained. In the electronic anthill, where are the edges? The book revolution, which, from the Renaissance on, taught men and women to cherish and cultivate their individuality, threatens to end in a sparkling cloud of snippets.

"So, booksellers, defend your lonely forts. Keep your edges dry. Your edges are our edges. For some of us, books are intrinsic to our sense of personal identity.”

Now it seems the revolution has passed us by and there are fewer forts to defend. And I’m not sure what hurts more – my feet or my heart.

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this was beautiful (with a tinge of sadness)...rated
A sad post. I will never give up books!
Haven't seen you for a while Lucy so this post is a mixed pleasure. It's very sad to see bookstores vanishing and disillusioning to hear that the bosses at Borders took such a corporate approach to the workplace. I'm one of those at fault as I now do about half my reading online. And my printed world reading is mostly The Economist and the New Yorker. I do hope that with the closing, you'll land on your feet, sore as they may be.
Let me join "Abrawang"... saying it's good to see you back with an excellent post on a subject near and dear to my heart.

Watching Borders falter- from near-range in Ann Arbor where the company is headquartered -- has been a sad business, to say the least. (But of all the choices out there, Borders was the most boring of retailers and marketers.)

Who knows what the future holds for the e-monsters and the indies -- I've got a Nook and a thousand and one beautiful volumes to leaf through, e-nuf reading to (out)last me... time will tell.
Good morning friends, old and new. Thanks for reading my sad story. I'll try to write something happy soon!
Such a beautiful tribute to the value of books, reading, and literature. I frequent two independent bookstores in my city and hopehopehope they'll stay afloat.
"maybe somebody will write an e-book about what killed Borders."
That's great.
Nice to see you here again!
I was sorry when I heard Border's was tanking, but their expansions were so rapid, I wondered how they would handle that...
I agree with you that books will not fade away, e-readers just do not replace books.
Coincidentally, my last post was about my teenager's and my overnight trip and a bookstore we found, and Karin Greenberg also wrote about books this week. It's in the air!
Good luck on your new ventures!
I feel your pain, Lucy. I didn't go when our Borders was closing down - I hate being a "vulture". There is nowhere to go, now, when the urge strikes to have a real book right then and there, or when you need to run out and pick up a gift for someone's birthday tomorrow. (We have a Books-A-Million, but I am not impressed. The store in my neck of the woods has an entire row of Bible covers. I find that downright odd.)

Glad to see this on the "cover" today!
Brought back some great memories of my own days working in bookstores, long ago, and you have communicated the value of bookstores through your writing. I hope you can find another place like that - bookstore people, whether employees or customers, are special people.
Bittersweet, and very interesting. I always wondered why people who worked in chain bookstores never seemed to read...now I know. I know from what you've written here that the future of the printed word is in peril to a certain degree (though like you, I hope and believe there will always be people - myself very much included - who prefer the tangible to the digital), but I hope and dream that, if you want it, you will find a well-paying position in a small, charming independent bookstore, where you can read whenever you want.

It's great to see you back here, and good luck to you!
Thank you for writing this. Borders has been an integral part of my life for the past seven years. I spent hours there on many an evening. When I learned our store was closing, I did go to the sales, and felt so sad to see the cafe dismantled as I walked out the door with my bargains. The thought of never sitting there again with a cup of coffee and a book and magazine I might buy brings tears to my eyes. I was just wondering where the booksellers I've seen so many times there will be going now, when I turned on my computer, and found this...
I hung up my own lanyard for that "other chain" five years ago this summer, and it was similarly heartbreaking to let go of a career I genuinely had a passion for, and poured more than I ever should have into. Let me assure you, there is life past this passion, and readers will continue to find writers, whether it be in books or bytes, because we are simply hardwired with the compulsion to share this journey.

I imagined I could have another life, with as much if not more passion, and I'm living it...and so will you.
I'm so happy when I find others who champion the cause of real books as much as me. (My post the other day was about my love affair with books and why I will never convert to an e-reader). It's a little scary that we used to lament the closing of the small, independent book stores and now it's come to the closing of the huge chains that put the little ones out of business. I still have faith, though! I refuse to believe that electronic books will ever completely take over. (Maybe I'm being naive, but I can't bear to think otherwise).
Hi Lucy. What a beautifully worded, heartfelt epitaph. I have not crossed the line into ebook territory yet-- debated getting a Kindle for my long trip but decided to stick with the printed word, no matter how bulky. Best of luck for your next steps!
Very interesting insider pictures! I am a huge bookworm and love books, but buying them is a real luxury- not affordable for me right now. Especially when you can get books for free from the library. Good luck on the job hunt.
An interesting piece about an subject I'd been curious about. Well done!
Sigh.... It is very sad to keep seeing bookstores disappear. I love browsing in bookstores. Usually I buy more if I have no set idea of what I'm looking for. Corporate greed and waste aside, Borders was a place to go be away from home when I needed one. I'll miss it.

I could never give up me books.
Thanks for reading, everyone!

divorcedpauline: I celebrate the independents, too! The well-run ones are the future of bricks and mortar bookselling.

Jeff Maehre: I paid attention in English Lit when we discussed denouements and irony. Thanks for visiting!

Just Thinking...Thanks for your kind thoughts. I'll visit the other book posts. Looks like I have a lot of catching up to do!

Jeanette: One of my fave Borders is/was in Brentwood - do you know the one? Nashville is really a book town, so I hope your independents are in good shape, maybe they'll benefit from Borders' demise. Trying to remember the name of the independent store there, they had a location at Green Hills mall (I hope I have the name right). Bought a Lee Smith book on their recommendation.

sophieh: another bookseller! Then you get the Withering Heights, the mangled Elie Wiesel pronunciations and sacredness of the ISBN. Secret handshake across the 'net!

roseincarolina: I'm so sorry that your store is closing. I'll miss our regular customers, the ones I know by name and by nickname. I hope you find a new place to buy a coffee and a magazine - these things are important to communities.

Kirsten: what a kind and generous comment this is. Thank you. I'm taking it to heart and I'll check back here often just to read it. One question: hearts recover, but do feet?

Karin Greenberg: I've been away so long and it appears that I have some reading to do. thanks for sharing your love of real books, Karin. I confess to being a complete failure at selling e-books. When I was unable to hand off the e-customers to my more knowledgeable colleagues, I would fumble and silently curse the plastic devils.

Linda: Told you I would eventually post here again. Thanks for reading my little story and for reading real paper books!

Land Poor: Thanks for visiting! I love libraries, too, but here's the thing: you can't give library books for Christmas/birthdays, etc. I have no idea what I'll give for Christmas presents this year! (My family may actually be excited about this.)

Karin McKim: Thanks for stopping by!
I'm so glad you wrote about this Lucy. It's always sad to see a business go under but watching a bookstore go is especially sad. It's also hard to let go of a time in your life -- and the people -- that was rewarding and (primarily) happy. That's probably the most difficult part of all, wrapping your mind around the "next phase." (And I hope you DO get another book store locally soon!)
Here in South Africa we just got an email from a friend that Borders was closing. I literally couldn't believe it!! The post was like an explanation of the whole (bad) affair, and I'm so sorry. I love Judy Blume and the Velveteen Rabbit... so sorry. I'm with Miguela...books are friends.
I hate to see Borders go too, but if anything's killing brick and mortar bookstores, it's online bookstores and the inane practices of the publishing business's medieval profit formula in general. When a store like Borders has to lower the price of a hardcover from $29 to $15.99 (plus tax) just to keep up with Amazon (no tax) or a discount online store, it's bye-bye time.
What a bittersweet post, indeed. I had no idea you worked in a bookstore - what a perfect place for a book lover. Just when did you find to create all your winning recipes for SKC? :o)
Good to see you back, Lucy.
Death of a bookstore is a heart breaker, no doubt, even if it is a "corporate" chain. I purposely buy all my books by my local independent and have for 40ty years. When they go out of business, I will weep. What else can "we" do? I'm not going "Kindle" and I buy a newspaper every day.
I enjoyed this irreverent yet nostalgic look at a business failure that hurts us readers - at least us old-fashioned readers - in the heart. I hope along with you it's less than an omen for bookselling generally.
My one comfort going to a near empty Borders last week-end was a full bookcase of Sarah Palin books that seemed totally unwanted even at 85% off.
I don't see why a physical book is so cherished. Sure, I love the leather bound volumes that once belonged to my great-grandfather, but most of my books are paperbacks that disintegrate if well-read and take up too much space if not.

I wouldn't recognize my favorite authors if they walked up and introduced themselves, but I do know their writing. It is a universally recognized truth. He was born with the gift of laughter. It was a dark and stormy night (just kidding).
I am so sorry your job has gone. It really is kind of heartbreaking to see bookstores go out of business.
Compared to libraries and indeed to the Charing Cross Road type stores, one should describe the Borders et al as bookmarts, everything so well arranged with not even the slightest hint of smell that one associates with books (yes it is not only the touch and feel), and stocked with maganizes, newspapers, cd's, various trinkets and (bad)coffee, what has it to do with books?

No wonder amazon and others had such a great growth, the aseptic digital store (let your fingers do the walking) vs. the aseptic mongrel

Personally I love libraries and little specialized stores (which also have online offerings) wherever they can be found and I do rent/buy books from them (and amazon) which i then hold in my hands and.....
OMg I feel so sorry for you and the bookstore. They are such a part of our lives and a place where one felt inspired while being there. The q for quirky was fun and I am sure leaving a place like this is like leaving a home thats a computer that had 1,o0o,000 gigs of knowledge and being given a comic book to live in .
"...five CEOs in five years, none of whom had bookstore experience; a corporate culture of waste..."

I think this applies to American businesses in general now. Upper management is not supposed to know anything about the industries they work in; indeed, it would be a hindrance. They aren't there to provide a need, serve customers, look after employees or even to take a long-term interest in the survival of the company. What they learn in MBA school is that any functioning operation is like a mine from which resources are to be extracted until there is nothing left. They are essentially there to transfer any wealth that might exist into their own pockets and to get out quick (preferably moving on to another "mining" operation) before the current one goes bust and they are left holding the bag. The real estate expansion was no doubt one of these resource extraction schemes, and probably large bonuses were handed out to those responsible. The whole current business model is completely unsustainable, but how will it change? The people who run everything are, by any definition, crazy.
Thank you. It is a sad thing indeed when books are assessed, published and distributed only on the monetary profit they will return.
I take it as an indicator of good parenting that all 3 of my kids (14, 10 and 8) are mourning the closing of Borders as much as their parents. Thanks for writing.
I have also done time in the corporate bookselling trenches and will be so sorry to see another store go. I felt like this article really hit home when you mentioned bookstores being for "ages and stages"--it is so true when you're a new bride buying your first "How Not to Screw It Up" wedding book, a travel guide for the next vacation, or taking your nephew to storytime....so sad not to have another place to do it.
Age 60 now, I bought my kindle only this past Monday. It was inevitable. Backlists are no longer maintained, and I found a book of fiction that I wanted to read was not available at all ... (30 day wait from Amazon) and wasn't in my local Borders. But... it was on kindle.
Well, for me this was a glimpse into an actual closure of a bookstore I rather liked. Its hard to believe they are all gone. Thank you for your words from the hip and straight. I'm sad that all of the workers will have to find other jobs in such a tight economy. I hope if you are looking that you find one fast. Wonderful and sad.
I worked 20 years for Borders/Waldenbooks, first as a college student and then as a starving teacher in my first career years. Borders is family. For all of you snooty "I love independents" type folks, I love independents too. But there is a place for these stores as well. In my hometown of Greeley, Co, there is now NO general purpose bookstore. None. There is a wonderful little magazine rack store that has been there forever, and an indy shop that services the small University there. And there is the Uni. bookstore. No B & N. No brick and mortar gen. purpose place.

Borders started out as a quirky indy in Ann Arbor and kept a corporate integrity that was pretty cool until after I left the place and the earphone culture came in. I frequent tons of indys. Tattered Cover, here in Denver is one of the finest in the states. Did you know that the Borders Corp. actually VOWED to NOT ever place a store near any of the three Tattered Cover stores (which are Denver holy places of pilgrimage for readers round the country)...I felt very good about working for them, though I made very little.

When I worked for them, you could "check out" any book in the store. ANY book. $120 art book to new paperback. This was an attempt to have a well read, if underpaid staff. I devoured books while employed there. It made me a better bookseller. I prided myself on my very deep knowledge of "that which has never graced the NYT best seller list or Oprah's list".

In addition, we had, for a time, a very good music department, in which employees could take home the promo CD's after they'd been used in the store. I collected an incredible range of CD's from American to Ute Lemper to Messiaen. And I introduced many listeners to such music as well.

In addition, all "advance" copies of books were distributed among employees so that they could read before the book arrived in-store and tout the merits of what they'd read. We were allowed to keep these advance copies as well.

I adored working in the store though it was pretty thankless work, and horrid at the holidays, as is most retail. My fellow employees were sometimes irresponsible college students who'd fail to arrive for their shifts...also par for the course in retail. But by and large, I, like Lucy, loved my co-workers. We had our "in" jokes and a bookish sense of humour.

I mourn the death of Borders, though I'm hooked on my Kindle. It is bittersweet...and I hope that our beloved Tattered Cover never dies. I'm sorry Lucy...keep on truckin'!
I love real books too. I recently went to a closing Borders during our long power outage from Irene. It was the only store that had book lights. My book lights saved me.
...um.."AmericanA" not "American" music that should be...oops!
Everyone, thank you so much for the encouraging response to this post. I am genuinely touched by each comment.

Shiral: It wasn't perfect, by far, but it filled a niche. Libraries just aren't the same as big-box bookstores when it comes to relaxing and reading.

Sheila: Thanks for loving books!

Bell: You know this post has been cooking in my brain for awhile. I've let go now, at least physically, and the psychological part comes when I get my final paycheck.

Brazen: Thanks for loving books. And Judy Blume. I want to write about Judy Blume (could have something to do with having a 13 year old daughter).

John: You are right about the inanity of publishing. Just don't get me started on the practice of "dumpstering." Over the years, Borders probably dumped millions of dollars of product into landfills across the country.

Fusun: How lovely to see your sweet avatar! The bookstore and the SKC fed naturally into each other - my foodie colleagues would help me pick out recipes & I was able to research in the stacks of cookbooks & magazines.

Ben Sen: And a newspaper reader, too! My first job was working for a newspaper, so I've watched the slow and painful death of that industry, too. Celebrate the independents! - they are the future of bookselling.

Matt Paust: There's nowhere to look but up - good to know there are other "old fashioned readers."

Mimetalker: Crazy thing about our store is that Palin title is actually selling at $5. The GOP publishing smug-fest did quite well, overall, although the Rove title was a hard sell. And the Glenn Beck warm & fuzzy title that came out around Father's Day. Still have copies kicking around for Dollar Day.

Malusinka: I envy your clutter-free and dust-free environment. I take your point about paperbacks, they can be a nuisance after awhile. My weakness is cookbooks, mostly hardcover.

Little Kate: Thanks, Kate. In the end, this is probably just the kick I needed to get a real job. My first clue should be that my colleagues were either retired or college students.

roberto luigi: It's true the big box stores had a little bit of everything, maybe to their detriment - don't even get me started on the evil that is plush critters.

Algis: You have found the perfect way to sum up my feelings. Thank you! I have a bookstore story that involves you that's a bit lengthy to tell in a comment. I'll tell you sometime.

MissJones: Goodness, gracious, you got Borders' number. You get the contract for the e-book about the death of Borders.

Shannon Smithey: Mom of the Year! Hope the Smithey family gets a quality bookstore very soon!

shortstackstef: *secret bookseller handshake* one of the things that brought us together as local communities has been assigned to the internet. I don't think that's a good thing in this case.

Terry McKenna: Sign of the times. Here's my Kindle/e-reader question: what do you read at the beach or in the bathtub?

Mango Sherbert: Yep, it's straight from my no-longer-radio-wearing hip. Thanks for the comments about this economy & looking for a job. Many of my co- workers have more than 5 years with the company and the managers have at least 10 years. Local unemployment is 11%+. *prayers and positive thoughts appreciated*

Yekdeli: *secret bookseller handshake.* I used to think that Christmas was the worst, but liquidation holds that honor now. At least half the folks would offer a "Merry Christmas" riff, during the liquidation, customers aren't sure what to say. I had a customer tell me that I must be looking forward to the end. I said that except for the part about all of us losing our jobs, I was. And Tattered Cover! - I'll make it there someday! I know without asking that you've read the John Dunning mysteries.

snarkychaser: So glad that you got a MacGyver moment out of Borders. Hope things are better for you now. Thanks for visiting & commenting!
Oh my gosh, Lucy. I didn't know you worked at Borders. You are one busy gal. Great post.