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Published: Friday, 7/22/2011

Losing our soul

Come September, the Borders bookstore chain will be no more. For the first time ever, America will find itself under the banner of one national bookstore chain -- Barnes & Noble.

When Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February, it was forced to shutter 228 stores nationwide.

Borders had until this week to find a buyer with deep pockets to assume its debts and obligations. But there isn't a white knight on the horizon for the 40-year-old Ann Arbor chain, so it asked the court yesterday to begin the process of liquidating its remaining 399 stores, including one at Westfield Franklin Park.

There's obvious truth to the notion that the big box bookstore chains dug their own graves by expanding too soon to too many places in the past 30 years.

Borders held its own with Barnes & Noble for years when the national economy was humming. But the company made a crucial error by failing to develop an electronic book reader the way its competitor had a few years ago. That and many other miscalculations sealed the perennially second-place booksellers' end.

As sad as it is to many, there are probably a few people who won't be shedding tears over the demise of the Borders bookstore chain.

Customers and owners of the independent bookstores that were displaced in the 1980s and 1990s by the rapid expansion of Borders and Barnes & Noble probably are feeling some sense of karmic satisfaction.

The few independent bookstores that remain in business have an opportunity to rebuild a strong customer base now that the discount chain stores are spaced so far apart. With the right marketing strategy, there could be a renaissance of neighborhood bookstores.

Some say that bookstores are superfluous in the age of Amazon.com and electronic readers. This is nonsense. People need bookstores for reasons that go far beyond shopping.

Bookstores, whether independent or part of a chain, are places where you can lose yourself. You wander the aisles of bookstores until books you didn't even know existed beckon you to partake of intellectual nourishment between their pages.

E-readers are convenient, but bookstores have soul.

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