Borders Employees Say A Bitter Goodbye

The country is now littered with the skeletons of Borders bookstores, since the chain started shutting down their remaining 399 outlets this summer. But the less visible victims are the 10,700 booksellers now left unemployed. Booksellers aren't always the easiest characters to please, a fact writ large in one Borders, reports Entertainment Weekly, where a few employees scrawled a manifesto on an easel pad: "Things we never told you: Ode to a bookstore death."

Everything you expected was simmering behind the bespectacled eyes of your helpful local bookseller is there in black and red Sharpie -- the snobbery and quiet judgment:

"We hate when a book becomes popular simply because it was turned into a movie."

"Oprah was not the 'final say' on what is awesome."

"It's called summer reading, not 'three days before school starts' reading."

"Nicholas Sparks is not a good writer ... if you like him, fine, but facts are facts."

This is combined, of course, with a dose of liberal intellect:

"It's true that we lean to the left and think Glenn Beck is an idiot."

There also are many standard employee gripes:

"We greatly dislike the phrase 'quick question." It's never true. And everyone seems to have one."

" 'I was just here last week and saw this book there' means nothing to us. The store changed once a week."

"It never bothered us when you threatened to shop at Barnes & Noble. We'd rather you do if you're putting up a stink."

Peppered among these grievances lie hints to the bookstore giant's demise. One of the causes, for example, of Borders' bankruptcy was that people didn't buy stuff. Visitors would spend lazy afternoons trolling the magazine racks and vintage sci-fi, and then leave. They were Borders devotees, perhaps, but not loyal customers.

"We always knew when you were intently reading Better Homes and Gardens, it was really a hidden Playboy."

"Most of the time when you returned books you read them already -- and we were onto you."

"When you returned your SAT books, we knew you used them. We thought it wasn't fair -- seeing that we are not a library."

But perhaps most tragically, the grievances reveal some of the magic lost by the decline of the bookstore, even if that magic was really annoying to the people who work there.

One day, on a walk home from a lousy day at work, there might not be any way to step through a pair of doors and say to a dude, "I'm looking for a book," and have that dude find you one. Unless, that is, there's a public library on your commute.

"When you walked in and immediately said 'I'm looking for a book,' what you really meant to say is 'I would like YOU to find me a book.' You never looked. It's fine, that's our job -- but let's be correct about what's really happening here."

Bookstores, unlike Amazon, pop all over your periphery. Your eyes are drawn to a display, skate over the glossy covers, get distracted by a New Release, a Recommended, a Bestseller, a New in Paperback, a Banned Book for Banned Books Week. We may find our new favorite book based on the color of the cover. That era is coming to a close.

"If you don't know the author, title or genre, but you do know the color of the cover, we don't either. How is it our fault if we couldn't find it. We'll never understand."

One day we may tell our children, or grandchildren, about the time we ran free among giving trees, tenacious Little Engines, and anthropomorphized bunny rabbits. One day we tell them that there was once a bookstore called Borders. And their response may very well be: What's a book?

"We were never a day care. Letting your children run free and destroy our kids section destroyed a piece of our souls."

But the bookseller him-or-herself may be one of the more wrenching goodbyes. The world is losing a stock character: the cynical, pretentious eccentric, who's in love with words.

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I'm another former Borders employee - and I too had many of the thoughts posted in the "Things we never told you" (note that the author states up front that these were not shared with customers).
It must be something to have a job that produces no frustrations, no irritations, no negativity - like the folks who are denouncing the "Ode to Borders". They obviously have no issues with their jobs, and are oblivious to the facts of retail life. I wouldn't trade places with them, however, living in their ivory towers oblivious to all. Anyone who has worked in retail has dealt with any number of the same, or similar, complaints and feelings of frustration - bookstore, grocery store, department store, waiting tables - each and every employee in retail has had many of the same or similar thoughts.
You might think that you are being a considerate customer, but for every one of you there is any of the customers who provoked those comments. The author herself sounds like a very intelligent woman, but she needs a week or so working behind a counter dealing with impossible demands so that she might understand that booksellers aren't snobby or judgemental, they're just trying like crazy to do the impossible for the unpleaseable.
I loved working at Borders, being part of a crew that earned awards for best customer service in the district. It was fun and rewarding - at the same time it was frustrating beyond words. I don't understand: shoplifting, or watching a customer spend day after day setting up shop and using the store as their personal research library, or parents who park their kids in the store then disappear to shop in the mall for hours on end while the kids tear the store up. I do understand that giving the best service I can results in having a return customer - including delivering books purchased over the phone to a shut-in on my way home after my shift was over. I treasure the time I spent working at Borders - the good days, the bad days. Sweeping the store after close and finding empty CD covers; general frustration with shoplifting; dealing with a difficult customer; yeah, those got frustrating. Counter that with watching the kids having a ball during Story Hour, or the joy in the face of a customer when I handed them the book they so desperately wanted, or just simply the pleasure of walking through the store in the last moments before opening the doors in the morning. The store was full of promise, hopes fulfilled, questions answered and needs met - one more brand new day...
Borders closed because of bad decisions by upper management - the folks getting the comfy bonuses while the booksellers are scrambling for a new job in a decidedly difficult job market. Had management listened to the employees when they tried to introduce programs that wouldn't/couldn't/didn't work the Borders stores might still be open.
Retail workers share many of the same thoughts as the list above; are you jealous because one person put them in print?

October 01 2011 at 9:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'll miss you Borders. I had so much fun working there.

September 29 2011 at 10:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Gee whiz! Did the poor little Borders employee have to put up with the same crap that all retail employees put up with. Sorry that the store closed, but stop bitchen'. If you don't like it, don't work in retail. It comes with the territory.

September 29 2011 at 8:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

eeb plab neesta!

September 29 2011 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sara Sackman

Me being a formers borders employee laughed at these. SO many are so true. People in ANY service industry put up with too much crap. From mean and nasty customers, people who walk in at closing and take there time shopping, while your family is at home waiting for you, ect.. But I did love that job, my love for books helped me to tolerate the morons that were in there for other reasons.

September 29 2011 at 7:50 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I sense that all of the people who can't be sympathetic to these people who were just fired are the same people who came to Borders with those same stupid questions. Retail has turn into place where you have to think for people that would consider themselves more intelligent than the person who is helping them. While calling these employees snobs, I see the writer has the same mindset as most of Borders' former shoppers.

September 29 2011 at 7:40 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to yopssstshorty's comment

Part of the reason I had my hackles up after I read the article is exactly for that reason. No one bothers to look at the other side of things and thus they get away with living like they mean more than everyone else. :|
Thanks for your post, really. I'm glad I read it.

September 29 2011 at 7:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you think this is new in retail you must be a very young person. These problems have plagued retail since the 1880's. While you're in that bookstore pick up a good book on the history of retail in America. I worked in retail 47 years ago, and it wasn't any better then. The only major difference is that there are now fewer sales people to help when you can't find that book that they have been advertising on line or in the paper for the last week. Use Amazon and you shouldn't have to put up with these types of problems.

September 29 2011 at 8:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In before the rage -- I'd just like to say that I'm not in the service line of work before anyone starts assuming things about me. I can understand from their perspective -- does it make them completely right? No. But who on this board has been a complete angel their whole life? None of you have the right to talk, I don't care who you are or how much you shopped at Borders, there are far more important things to work on (like self-improvement) than to be fussing so harshly over these types of things.

September 29 2011 at 7:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It might be someone's job to help find books, but that doesn't excuse the other crap most employees in "service" have to deal with. You have a bad day so you act passive-aggressive on the road and won't let the person trying to merge infront of you. You don't know how to discipline your kids so, instead, you bring them to a diner or a store and unleash them for other people to deal with. This puts your kids at risk of major injury and makes you a horrible mom. How about cleaning up after yourself in the bathroom so the people after you (like me?) won't have to deal with your disgusting leftovers on the seat. How about you are polite the next time you go to a drive-through, because surely the people behind the computers are HUMAN and you realize that they're not there to be your personal shopping bag.

Anyone who has enough time to sit on this board and whine and complain about how they should be treated has the time to teach themselves some manners. I guarentee you that if you treat the person you're speaking to with dignity and respect -- worthy of a human to human interaction (because we are all human, right?) -- you wouldn't have any of the trouble you have had in stores. Sure, there is the rare exception, but 99.9% of the people you think are being rude are treating you exactly like you're treating them. Have fun looking for a book with a red cover in a sea of a million other colored books, eh?

September 29 2011 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Borders staff were rude. I'm sorry, but it's your job to help find books, answer questions (quick or not) and generally act like you have some manners. I've worked nearly my entire career in customer service and I have never been upset with a customer asking me to do my job. It's like a waitress saying she was so peeved when someone asked for a refill. You come in and do the job that you are paid to do, and pleasantly. Anything less and you are stealing from your employer.

September 29 2011 at 7:01 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Kate's comment


I'm sorry , but you can't make a blanket statement that all Borders store employees were rude Simply isn't true. Service is determined by management and I have been in several Borders stores where the service was exemplary and a few (very few- where service could be better). Borders had very high standards for service. I should know since I was a manager for them for several years.

September 29 2011 at 11:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Kate, you obviously never shopped in my store. I and my co-workers did precisely as you suggest we should have, with a smile. It isn't fair for you to imply that all Borders staff were rude - you may have had a bad experience, but did you give a different bookseller a chance to change your mind? We loved helping customers find the book/music they were looking for...

October 01 2011 at 10:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No wonder they went under...

September 29 2011 at 6:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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