Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I will not be shedding any tears for Borders

I looks like Borders is the first corporate casualty of the rise of the e-reader.

When I first moved to Charlotte in 1997, I took a job for a few months at Borders Books and Music on Sharon Road, just down the street from Southpark Mall. This was strictly to fill in the gap until I found what I hoped would be better long-term employment. I can think of very little positive to say about the company, or about the eight months that I spent there as an employee. It is true, I have never seen a better selection of books at any other store. On the other hand, I hate that so many locally owned bookstores have been driven out of business by Borders and its twin, Barnes and Noble.

What I remember most about Borders is the somewhat hypocritical way that the chain tried to cultivate a "progressive" public image--not only by stocking fashionably obscure, intellectual, and edgy titles alongside the expected bestsellers, but also by encouraging employees to dress down in jeans and t-shirts and display their tattoos and piercings, presumably an attempt to replicate some of the casual and "hip" atmosphere of the independent booksellers that Borders had displaced.

Of course, this "progressive" company, like most big chain retailers, paid its employees abysmally low wages and offered utterly inadequate benefits. At the time that I was employed there, a rumor was circulating of an impending attempt to unionize the store. The management responded with the expected mix of veiled threats and anti-labor propaganda to convince us that we would all be better off without union representation, as if they were in any position to decide for us.

Of course, it is tragic that over ten thousand Borders employees will be joining the ranks of the 14+ million unemployed in this country. But as for the company itself and its stores, I will not be mourning its passing.


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