Although my sojourn in SW Oklahoma made me a less-frequent visitor since Borders was not in that area, I've still been in them pretty frequently. But I guess it had been some time since I'd tried to while away an hour or two in one, because I found myself with quite a bit more hour than while when I was done. Selections across the board are minimal compared with just a few years ago. A music section that sprawled across nearly a full quarter of the store hangs on to about a sixth. Spotlighted CD's with little blurbs about the music or artist that you could listen to when the headphones worked are replaced with generic Borders signs and just a handful of tryout possibilities. Wal-Mart has a bigger selection.
The company's been in financial trouble, which may explain some of the problem. But the ever-shrinking selection of books and music predates this trouble, it seems. The only section of the store that's gotten bigger is the DVD area, and it doesn't seem likely to me that people who choose to own fewer and fewer physical copies of their music albums will hang on to physical copies of movies and TV shows once they're readily available online in a cheap, high-quality format.
At heart I'm a free-marketer and if the store has to change to survive or if it can't survive, well, that's the price we pay for that system. I have digital music as well, and I love my iTunes. I've bought books from Amazon and eBay and abebooks.com and a half-dozen others because they were cheaper and because if I wanted something shipped, I might as well have it shipped to me instead of a store who'll call me when it arrives so I can drive to get it. So I'm part of the problem.
But I remember how cool it was when Borders, as well as Barnes and Noble, opened up stores in Dallas when I was in seminary. Poor as the proverbial churchmouse, I could entertain myself wandering around the shelves for some time, and it helped me vary my routine from always going to Half-Price Books.
When I interned in Norman and lived in a one-room efficiency "heated" by a dinky, wheezy unit clutched in the window-frame, I had two options if I wanted to stay in my place: 1)In the bathroom with the space heater I bought or 2)Under every blanket I owned plus two coats and a pair of ski gloves. So I again had the chance to wander the many shelves and spaces of both big-chain stores, as well as the local Hastings.
All of the online purchase options and such have made many kinds of shopping more efficient and more convenient. So a lot of brick-and-mortar places are going by the wayside. And as a part of the problem, I don't know if I've always considered the fact that efficiency and convenience are also commodities with prices, even if those prices aren't measured in dollars and cents but instead experiences and opportunities. In fact, I know I haven't. I've paid for my convenience by shrinking the opportunity I've always enjoyed to just wander around a place like that for whatever might catch my eye. I can still do that -- but it seems to be autumn for the eye-catchers, because they're pretty stark and bare these days.
It's funny. When the two big-chain book and music stores opened in Norman, a lot of us saw the end of the town's Hastings, the chain that likes to focus on small towns and which operated out of a not-very-converted old grocery store. But a few years ago, while the other stores were subtly replacing shelves with open space (faded carpets don't lie), Hastings remodeled and increased their selection. And Hastings' financials look a bit better than Borders. Maybe convenience isn't everything and efficiency isn't always the best goal?