Archive for Monday, February 21, 2011

Remember Borders

February 21, 2011


Sometimes bad news makes you pause.

The announcement by Borders that it will close its store at Seventh and New Hampshire streets falls under that bad news category. It is a blow for a downtown that already feels like its retail muscle isn’t what it used to be.

Not that it will ease the sting, but community leaders and planners ought to take a moment and ponder Borders’ approximately 15-year history in Lawrence. Specifically, they should let their minds wander back to 1996 when Borders was forced to argue its way into this city’s business community.

The proposal to build a national chain bookstore in downtown Lawrence spurred considerable controversy. To some, it didn’t matter that Borders wanted to make a $7 million investment in downtown Lawrence by building a new store with its own parking — a rarity in downtown.

Instead, two issues kept rising to the surface of a heated City Hall debate. One was that the old livery stable building at Seventh and New Hampshire was an integral part of downtown’s historic fabric. The argument was that if it were torn down, the environs of the historic Eldridge Hotel would be damaged. The second argument simply was that a national bookstore chain would decimate the city’s healthy independent bookstore market.

Today, hindsight allows us to say both of those concerns were exaggerated. It would be hard to argue that The Eldridge is any less of an attraction or a historic jewel than it was 15 years ago. In fact, The Eldridge has seen a tremendous amount of new investment in the Borders era.

Even more interesting is what has happened to the city’s bookstore scene. It has not been decimated. The Raven Book Store — less than a block away — remains open. So does The Dusty Bookshelf. Yes, some stores have closed, but some new ones have opened. Signs of Life — a specialty independent bookstore — is one of downtown’s larger retailers today. Half Price Books on West 23rd Street did not blink an eye at locating in a city that has a Borders.

Even The Raven doesn’t seem to mind anymore. The ownership of The Raven has changed since those contentious days, but now the store’s owner says she’s sad to see Borders close. There is a real benefit to having several bookstores close together in the downtown, she says.

As it turn out, Borders was less of a factor in Lawrence’s bookstore industry than and the Internet. The folks arguing in the mid-1990s, didn’t have a clue about that development.

(As an aside, changing reading habits also will have an impact on public libraries and should be a factor in plans for Lawrence’s library expansion. Perhaps city and library officials should take another look at plans to make sure the overall library project is still relevant.)

It is important to remember all this because city leaders and planners are still asked to sit in judgment on new development projects. Arguments are still made at City Hall that some developments should be denied because they’ll run other businesses out of business.

There really should be no room for that in the city’s planning process, because that’s not planning; it’s just guessing.

It is fine and appropriate for planners to consider many factors — such as traffic flow, parking, design and zoning consideration. But leaders shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking they can predict the future. The next time City Hall leaders are presented with arguments that one business will ruin another business, they ought to remember Borders. They ought to remember that back in the mid-1990s a lot of well-intentioned people gazed into a crystal ball and were certain of the harm a Borders would do to downtown and Lawrence.

Come to find out, that crystal ball was about as cloudy as the future of a certain national bookstore chain is today.


Richard Heckler 7 years ago

THINK about this for a bit.... like what killed the economy. Two things did. First a " boom town economy " in high gear that which can never be sustained. AND It's reckless partner:

Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?

Financial crooks brought down the world's economy — but the feds are doing more to protect them than to prosecute them.....

nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.

The rest of them, all of them, got off.

Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom — an industry wide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities — has ever been convicted.

Their names by now are familiar to even the most casual Middle American news consumer: companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley.

Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling.

What's more, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions — from AIG derivatives chief Joe Cassano, who assured investors they would not lose even "one dollar" just months before his unit imploded, to the $263 million in compensation that former Lehman chief Dick "The Gorilla" Fuld conveniently failed to disclose.

Yet not one of them has faced time behind bars.


Where's the FBI and a Grand Jury!

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

" In the parlance of the trade, many chains are simply over-stored." This economy may not bounce back anytime soon.

America has 9 million or more homes on the market and no jobs for an estimated 26 million.

Retail chains are cutting back. Talbot's and Border's are leaving Lawrence,Kansas. Then again Lawrence has an over built retail market so stores simply cannot support themselves. America is Over Stored

America Is Over Stored ( Do Lawrence,Kansas planners,Chamber of Commerce and city government not realize this?)

The Wall Street bankers boom town economics building frenzy produced a bumper crop of new retail space. But the occupants haven't materialized.

The carnage in retail hasn't been this bad since an anarchist bombed Chicago's Haymarket Square in 1886. In January, Liz Claiborne said it would shutter 54 Sigrid Olsen stores by mid-2008; Ann Taylor announced that 117 of its 921 stores would be closed over the next three years, and Talbots axed the Talbots Men's and Talbots Kids concepts and 22 Talbots stores. Even Starbucks has scaled back its yearlong saturation-bombing campaign.

But back out inflation and sales of gasoline, and retail sales fell in real terms in the past year. Clearly, demand is down.

And supply is up. This decade's building frenzy produced a bumper crop of new retail space—from McStrip malls built near new McMansions, to hip new boutiques in the ground floors of hip new Miami condo buildings. But as is the case with those McMansions and condos, the occupants for new retail space haven't materialized.

In the fourth quarter of 2007, the national retail-vacancy rate rose for the 11th straight quarter to 7.5 percent—the highest level since 1996, according to research firm Reis, Inc.

With new projects coming online—34 million square feet of retail space will be completed in 2008—the rate is expected to spike further to 8 percent. In the parlance of the trade, many chains are simply over-stored.


Brent Garner 7 years ago

For the very first time since I began posting here I can actually agree with Merrill about something. He is absolutely right that those executives engaged in, at the least, misleading activities. But, let's not cut off the list at them. What of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who openly stated that they would buy up these poisoned mortgages? What of individuals like Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd who, even as the melt down was beginning, publicly stated in testimony before Congress that there was nothing insolvent or wrong at Fannie or Freddie? I am all in favor of punishing the culprits but lets put ALL the culprits in jail not just a select few!

pace 7 years ago

On a side note. I love books and book stores and i found Borders boring, no personality, it was a sterile environment. I preferred all the other ones in town. I described to a friend as having no personality.

somebodynew 7 years ago

And this article shouts to me why all the excessive "protection" of downtown is unwarranted. Downtown has been turned into mostly restaurants and bars and will probably never change. Stores have to have a niche to be able to survive down there, especially with the high rents. Yes, I love the downtown and frequent it a lot - for walking, looking, and eating. I do very little shopping there, unless looking for Jayhawk gear.

Getaroom 7 years ago

Thank you Merrill!! And while we are at it, let's do away with The Federal Reserve Bank.

50YearResident 7 years ago

A quote from this editorial. "As an aside, changing reading habits also will have an impact on public libraries and should be a factor in plans for Lawrence’s library expansion. Perhaps city and library officials should take another look at plans to make sure the overall library project is still relevant".)

That statement alone should be read and reviewed by everyone connected to the now $12 million dollar library project. Then try to answer this question. By the time this project is completed, will it be already an outdated source of looking for and reading the information found in books? With I-pads, e-books, do all cell phones and the ever more powerful computers with google, is there going to be a need for a Library at all? I think the project should be put on hold and looked at again in 2 or 3 years to see if the need is still there. Borders leaving town is a premonition of things to come to books.

The changing of lifestyles means needs of services in the near future are rapidily changing also.

verity 7 years ago

Exactly. While I think there will be always be physical books in the foreseeable future, there will probably be less and less as people get used to reading online or using digital books. Ever-changing technology means that the library needs to be open to change at all times and build in such a way that those changes can be made. While we may still need a physical library for some time, it's function will undoubtably change in ways that we can't foresee right now.

jafs 7 years ago

Borders did in fact put several local bookstores out of business, and they did demolish some nice old buildings, when they could have used them instead.

It has been a mix of positives and negatives, if comments about it on other threads are any indication, and the parking lot has been abused by many who are not customers of the store, making it very difficult for customers to find spaces there at times (I speak from personal experience).

My question is, what happens to the space now? If Borders owns it, who will buy it? And, if not, then what?

Anybody have any ideas?

50YearResident 7 years ago

Doug Compton or the next door owners of the Townhouses, The Fritzel Construction Co, would be my guess.

notanota 7 years ago

Exactly. To be fair, the businesses that closed did so preemptively, but the concern that it would kill small business was not unfounded, and the concern that it was destroying historic buildings was also not unfounded. And had nobody said anything about the existing buildings, I suspect we'd have a much uglier building there that is still there after Borders closes, unlike the old buildings that were demolished.

notanota 7 years ago

Terra Nova and Adventure Bookstore. Both closed before Borders opened and put up signs saying they'd decided they couldn't compete and wanted to get out before they were losing money. Adventure I think was the one that had a sign saying that local bookstores could compete with chains if they were willing to accept three years of losses on average, and they didn't have the reserves for it.

notanota 7 years ago

They said as much when they closed. That their future was uncertain, and they were closing early while they could get a higher price for their asset sales rather than risk selling out late and at lower prices.

earline james 7 years ago

Deans (off of 11th and Mass), across from the Court House.
I remember because I had a "store credit" that I just had to kiss goodbye. ...

northtowngrl 7 years ago

Also Children's Bookstore in the 9th & Mass area. It hung on for about 5 years but closed. It had a sister store in Manhattan that is still open I believe.

jayhawklawrence 7 years ago

I don't get it. Borders made some major strategic mistakes such as giving away its competitive advantage to Amazon 10 years ago and punting opportunity in the digital book market.

So how does Merrill turn this into an attack on Wall Street. Hey, I hate Wall Street as much as the next guy but we need to be fair and keep our feet on the ground.

We have to get Barnes and Noble in here. Losing Borders is too big of a loss for me. I could give a rats behind about whether Geithner or Paulsen caused Borders to go bankrupt.

I want my coffee and my book and a nice chair to relax in.

pace 7 years ago

They should move city hall there and convert the City hall building to a community shelter for the homeless.

ksriver2010 7 years ago

Borders has always been more of a "library" and internet cafe than a bookstore. Look at patrons. I don't see too many people buying books. Yet many books on the shelf, especially in the history and reference section, are dogeared. In Wichita the only people who go to the library are the homeless. Everyone else uses Barnes and Nobles and Borders as the library.

pace 7 years ago

We have a wonderful library with a wonderful staff. We are blessed to have such a good foundation. I think the new library will evolve to be much different from our present library, We are heading into different times of information. One interesting thing is digital information doesn't hold like books. It degrades and access degrades, digital copies require different maintenance than books.

parrothead8 7 years ago

"They ought to remember that back in the mid-1990s a lot of well-intentioned people gazed into a crystal ball and were certain of the harm a Borders would do to downtown and Lawrence."

By the same token, the writer ought to remember that back in the mid-1990s a low of well-intentioned people gazed into a crystal ball and were certain of the success a Borders would have in downtown Lawrence. Those people were wrong, too.

Uncle_TBag 7 years ago

If, as the author said, ‘leaders cannot predict the future’, why do we build at all? If we cannot make predictions about market, employment, or population based on current trends, there is no reason to believe we will need more of anything. It is the principle of Uniformitarianism that allows predictions for the future to be made based on the past. Every industry does this, and it is at least slightly more accurate than crystal-ballery.

The author’s assertion that one example’s (Borders) success in spite of Planners negates the credibility of the industry as a whole is cherry-picking and fallacious. In addition, is a 15 year run in a city considered success? If anything, it would seem to prove the Planners right. They said Lawrence’s bookstore market was saturated, and it turns out that maybe it was.

-A Crystal-Baller

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