Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bye Bye Borders

By now you've probably heard that Borders Books is entering bankruptcy and will be closing many of its stores. The two Borders outlets nearest me are both on the list to be axed. This blog post is not so much about Borders itself, but a comparison of the two towns that are losing the massive retailer.

On one side we have the beach-side college town of Santa Cruz, and on the other the Silicon Valley suburb of Los Gatos.

Santa Cruz is known for being on the funky side. The shops downtown cater to a younger, hipper audience. Walking down Pacific Avenue on any given day, you're likely to encounter several street musicians and even more homeless (or near-homeless) asking for handouts.

Los Gatos is known for being decidedly more upper-crust. The shops are high-end and expensive, and the restaurants compete with San Francisco for cutting-edge gourmet dining experiences. Only one homeless person at a time is allowed on North Santa Cruz Avenue (yes, Los Gatos' main drag is called "Santa Cruz").

Santa Cruz culture emphasizes the small, the local, the sustainable, the unique. Los Gatos also stresses unique and special, but is more open to corporate influence and its perceived worldliness. In Santa Cruz many of the shop windows have signs for the 3/50 Project - a nationwide campaign to get people to shop locally. I'm not sure I've ever seen 3/50 references in Los Gatos.

Santa Cruz has always been home to multiple bookstores, each with their own specialties and market niches. When Borders announced they were moving in, there were protests saying the chain store was neither needed nor welcome. Since Borders opened there's been some changes in the local book scene, but they never managed to supplant the major local players.

Borders was welcomed with open arms in Los Gatos, where, at the time, there were only two other bookstores: One locally-owned specialty mystery bookstore and one Crown Books discount book chain outlet. Shortly after Borders came, each of these closed. The Crown is now the Pier One Imports and the mystery book shop is now quite an excellent little restaurant.

The loss of Borders in Los Gatos means the closest thing to a bookstore will be going to the Apple Store and purchasing an iPad to read your iBooks. For as much emphasis as Los Gatos places on being a place of "culture" and refinement, the lack of a bookstore should be a major embarrassment. For a community that bases its overblown property values in a large part on the quality of its schools, the inability of the town's adults to support even one bookstore demonstrates where their real values are.

For Santa Cruz, the loss of Borders won't alter the town's voracious appetite for literature and learning in the least. The only concern for Santa Cruz will be such a large vacant space in a prominent location.

Is your community ready for the loss of Borders? What if the other large box retailers were to pull out of your town? Do you have any more local retailers left?

Support your local bookseller and read about the 3/50 Project before it's too late.

Twitter Feed