Borders: The Final Chapter

Kudos to Borders for not forgetting its most loyal customers as it begins the slow and painful process of shutting down operations.

Unlike the no-regrets disappearing act of some other retailers, Borders actually sent out a thank-you to the nearly 1.8 million members of its Rewards loyalty program. With a subject line of “A Fond Farewell …. Thank you for Shopping at Borders,” the e-mail laid out the chain’s failure to find a bidder in simple layman’s terms while also acknowledging the headwinds it has been facing for some time. It ended on a graceful note, and was signed by CEO Mike Gordon.

As to the “whys” of Borders demise, there really is little mystery. From mismanagement and bad real estate decisions to e-commerce and the e-book revolution, Borders found itself challenged with gale-force headwinds that it could not escape. It was never able to right its ship.

I’ve covered this industry for 20 years. I’m astute enough to know that in retail, as in nature, only the strong survive. Retailers that don’t evolve quickly enough to keep pace with the changing times are doomed to mediocrity -- or failure. I also know that, ultimately, Borders has no one to blame for its demise but itself. It made a lot of bad decisions in recent years, decisions that didn’t serve the company or its 10,000 associates well.

Although I shopped Borders (it was convenient, just down the block from my office), I have no sentimental attachment to it.  But I take no pleasure in seeing a retailer close its doors -- especially a once-mighty one like Borders -- or in anyone losing their job. And as the most recent tenant vacancy reports indicate, there are still lots of empty spaces in malls and shopping centers. Borders’ liquidation will only add to the dark spaces. I can’t imagine any shopping center developers are cheering this final chapter in the bookseller’s saga.

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