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What do boarded-up Borders stores mean for Buffalo?

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blog by S.J. Velasquez  • 

With the news that Borders stores will be closing up shop, you’d think local bookstore owners would be dancing a happy dance—but that’s not the case at all. From Talking Leaves to Rust Belt Books, shop representatives are reacting to the Borders flop in surprising fashions.

“It’s a terrible thing that the world will have 400 fewer bookstores,” Talking Leaves co-founder and co-owner Jonathon Welch said, referring to the 399 Borders retail locations set to close by September, including one store in Orchard Park and another in Cheektowaga.

And while Welch admits he’s never been terribly fond of big-box bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble, he feels for the employees—more than 10,000 of whom will be out of a job—and the customers, book lovers living on the outskirts of the city with limited access to independent bookstores.

“I think all of us have a kind of sadness when a bookstore goes out of business,” Welch said. “Certainly the reduction in reading and literacy are a huge challenge for anyone in this industry. Those are much larger issues to me.”

Welch doesn’t suspect former Borders customers will to flock to his shops—located on Main Street and Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo—once area Borders locations close for good. If anything, he expects the Borders liquidation sales to “draw a lot of people, and draw them away from us.” Maybe then, after the liquidation, his stores will experience a slight uptick in sales. But he’s not banking on it.

Down in Allentown, Kristi from Rust Belt Books (if you’re a regular customer, you’ll know her on a first-name basis, she said) doesn’t anticipate any shift in sales numbers due to the Borders closings. She says the her store and Borders serve “two different customers.”

“We don’t identify with that kind of market,” she said. “We believe we’re going to exist. We’ve been going right along regardless of Borders.”

Kristi’s confidence in Rust Belt Books is less about comparing business practices and more about contrasting a community and a corporation. “We exist based on the relationships we build,” she asserted, knowing that Rust Belt is an integral part of the community—Allentown, to be specific—whereas Borders strives for sales.

Stores like Talking Leaves and Rust Belt Books “will never get big enough to experience the giant collapse,” because these independent shops never intended to be that way, Welch said, noting that Talking Leaves and Borders were both founded the same year, 1971.

Sadly, Welch estimates 2,000 independent bookstores fell victim to the big-box bookstore hype in recent decades. Then Barnes and Noble took a giant hit, closing many of their storefronts. Now, nearly 400 Borders stores are scheduled to close. Bookstores will be few and far between, to sat the least. “But we’re still here,” he boasted, and he hopes the Buffalo community will take notice of this fact and begin supporting local stores rather than mega-stores.

“All those folks spending money at Borders, they now have a choice to keep money local or support out of town businesses,” Welch said. “We hope many of them will consider the effects of that and at least try to shop local.”

Related links:
» The Buffalo News: Borders prepares for its final chapter
» The Associated Press: Borders end to have ripple effect across country

TAGGED: allentown, books, bookstores, borders, elmwood, rust belt books, shop local, talking leaves

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