Sunday, March 13, 2011

One More Run to the Border(s)

I've been aware for several weeks now that Borders Books and Music is downsizing, and that one of the casualties of this effort will be the huge store in Dallas at Preston and Royal. Seeing as how this is pretty close to my church, it used to be a regular stop on Sunday afternoons, especially because of its ginormous music department. Many an hour was spent at its listening stations, checking out the latest jazz offerings (and interesting-looking things in other genres as well).

So I stopped in again this morning for the first time in several years, in search of a possible bargain. And the first thing that struck me (besides how few other customers were in the store) was how small the music department had gotten; a good two-thirds of the area had been replaced with bookshelves. (And this was not simply a downsizing brought on by the store-closing sale, either; the bookshelves in question had permanent signage above them which indicated that the displays have been there for a while.) As for the bargains themselves? If there were some there, it was hardly worth the time to look, as any sense of order had long ago been abandoned, and it's not like they'd have employees going around reshelving everything at this point.

I've posted in the past* about the apparent downfall of the whole "bookstore as music store" idea, and it's only gotten worse since then. (Scroll down to the bottom section of the linked post, "A heads-up to the brick-and-mortars," to read my earlier thoughts on this subject.) Still, it was a good run while it lasted, and the timing was perfect; the departure of big chain music stores like Blockbuster Music, Tower Records and Virgin Megastore left a void that Barnes & Noble and Borders filled for a while, but the writing was on the wall the past several years when the bookstores shrunk their music departments down to bare bones.

Still, it was a Catch-22 of sorts for them; no doubt, it's expensive to keep physical CDs in stock at a store, but if they're not there (or if they cost considerably more than the same stores sell them for on their websites), people won't buy them, and they may not come in at all. For me, a trip to the local Barnes & Noble was a weekly ritual until they downsized their music department (replacing a lot of the music shelves with audiobooks, which don't seem to sell at all); it also means less business from me in their cafe, and I haven't even renewed my membership the past couple of years.

The recorded music business itself is also changing, with a lot of distribution taking place in the form of digital downloads. (And a lot of the music I've bought recently is of the indie variety that might never show up inside a Barnes & Noble or Borders in the first place.) Still, it would be nice to have a place that combined music purchasing with the social aspect of a bookstore; the Hear Music burning-bar concept trotted out by Starbucks a few years ago never really, took off, but I wonder if a bookstore that offered some sort of downloading machine into which customers could plug their iPods would be successful.

Still, on this day, I remember the years of the bookstore-as-CD-store, and they were good. It still surprises me that the Preston/Royal Borders is closing (it's the same location where former President Bush drew an overflow crowd to his book-signing just a few months ago), but the new Barnes & Noble that's catty-corner across the street evidently took a lot of its business away. I'm also glad that Borders isn't completely going away, and that the one in Watters Creek is among those being spared.

Do you have a favorite memory of buying music at a bookstore, or of the Preston/Royal Borders in general? Feel free to share in the comments.

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