Borderland Blues

Anne’s sister, Jane, works for Borders Bookstores, and if you’ve heard the news, you’ve heard that Borders is closing up shop. Last weekend’s negotiations to find a buyer failed and the Borders Group is expected to go before their bankruptcy judge and seek liquidation this week. It appears that the stores will remain open for another month as they sell off their inventory, but Jane works at the corporate office in Ann Arbor, so her future could be different. I have not spoken with Jane since the news hit, but Anne is expected in Ann Arbor. It is tough loosing your job and in this economy, finding a new one could be even tougher. Our prayers go out to Jane and her co-workers.

When I first moved to Ann Arbor in 1970, Borders had just a single store, it was on State Street. Even in this embryonic state, there was some thing special about this bookstore. There were places to sit and read in the store. I had never encountered a bookstore that actually encouraged reading without buying. The store expanded once at this locale, while I was still living in Ann Arbor. Anne and I moved to Saint Louis and on a return visit to Ann Arbor, the store had moved down the street and taken over an old Jacobson’s department store. Borders had become a super-bookstore. The years rolled on and eventually, Borders came to Saint Louis. The Library Limited, our favorite bookstore in Saint Louis, was purchased by Borders. They maintained this storefront location for a few more years, before they moved into their current location, in the Brentwood Promenade. Even there they continued to expand, by taking over an adjoining storefront.

By this time, Borders had hundreds of stores across the country. This position in the marketplace led to its characterization as the Big Brother of bookstores. It was viewed and rightly so, as a threat to the neighborhood bookstore. I just see it as part of the evolving marketplace. This same evolution eventually doomed Borders to extinction. A combination of Borders’ misinvestment into music and video products and the advent of Amazon contributed to Borders’ demise.

I worked eleven years for a technology company, Control Data that was eventually shot out underneath me. Those eleven years weigh heavily on me now as I plan my retirement. They were essentially wasted years, at least from a retirement point of view. This company offered a pension, but not a 401K plan. Like most pension plans, this one was predicated on working thirty or more years. Eleven years did not cut much mustard. Nowadays, the advent of the 401K plan tends to mitigate the demise of a company before ones pension plan has matured. Anyway you cut it though, loosing your company is worse than just loosing your job, because after all there is no appeal.

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