Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day 17

Yesterdays post meant a lot to me. I really felt like i had a unique opportunity to thank someone (specifically) and someones (generally) that i may never have again. I'm so deeply touched, and formed, by Borders culture that i needed to share it, and i needed to say it how i see it. I'm endlessly glad i did. And my goodness what a response.

So far in my blogging I have found that the posts that talk about the meaningful stuff of my experience within this company are the posts I'm happiest with. Which is why i am doubly annoyed at what todays post will be.

See i don't want a customer experience that has them asking me all kinds of questions, to give them insight into my life. You're not Barbara Walters and i'm not Jesse James (Motor Cycle designer and Bullock heart breaker, not world famous wild west villain). You don't need to know anything about me, and therefore you will not. I know that it's easy to convince yourself that you're asking "oh what will you do" out of a sense of concern for another human being, but lets get serious here. You're probably just asking because it's a topic of conversation that's juicy for a hot second, and later when you're sitting at your kids Lacrosse practice you can suck down some Starbucks and say to the privileged suburbanite next to you "i was at borders today, its such a shame, why one of the booksellers said He didn't know what he's going to do when the store closes...and in this economy!". Sip. "Yes it WAS the fat one with the beard, Isn't he just wonderful! last month he found my copy of The Help..." Sip. "oh i Christmas this year he found my Elf on the Shelf but it was..."sip" you know, too dark for my children, but he got me a blonde one and didn't make me feel like a racist."Gasp...!"I just thought of it- what are we going to do this Christmas? I do almost 3 percent of my shopping there! 98 percent of my last minute shopping!" Sip "I don't think i'm getting the kids teachers gift cards this year,i pay taxes...that should be enough, right...for what this school costs." Knowing chuckle, knee slap, fake extended laugh that sounds like a jet engine warming up in reverse. "and it just keeps going down know my son takes...." and on and on. I mean really, that's probably what you're in it for. The genuine ones just say i'm sorry and let you know they will really miss the store. Even that is more than i expect.

I want, i expect, a customer experience that is simply this: when you approach me for assistant you be grateful, though not obsequious, about the level of help i can provide, That when you are at the register, you smile, give me money, and step out of line in a timely fashion and ask any questions before i hit total. Most importantly i expect you to respect me as a human being, to understand that my station in life merits you nothing more than a professional, courteous, interaction. Not details of my life, not my plans for the future, and not...REALLY REALLY NOT using my impending unemployment and companies disastrous fall from grace as a bludgeon to get what you feel owed!

After yesterdays post i really was looking forward to a positive post again, but sadly my customers had something else entirely in mind.

Most of the morning i was cleaning out my cafe. This is harder than i thought, largely because i never got 3 uninterupted days to clean my cafe before and it felt good. It felt like how you feel after a dentist visit. I was making happen what i had wanted to happen for the last 2 years, it's just it won't do me any good. I haven't been shy about my dislike of SBC but even still, throwing out a thick stack of Coffee Passports just made me think. Thinking made me sad. Sadness made me leave the cafe and start going through the heavily picked over magazine section to try to carve some order out of chaos and catch my breath. Had i known what was coming next i would have gleefully set the Coffee Passports on fire and watched a slow motion montage of every barista i had ever worked with laughing, set to the song "Time to say goodbye" as sung by Andrea Boccelli and Sarah Brightman.

This woman was Pain-Full.

"Where are your chairs, i want to sit down, I probably won't buy any books if i can't sit down"

Interesting you opened with a threat, how Voldemortian of you. "Sorry no chairs. We put them away because they're going to be for sale."

"But if i can't look through the books how am i going to know if i want them"

I don't know, ask Amazon..."You're welcome to look through them we just don't really have spots to sit any longer"

okay, background: we took our chairs down because we were insanely busy and every chair became an invitation for 150 books of all varieties to be thrown in it's vicinity. Haphazardly stacked as if each book was racing to see who got to sit in the chair and didn't care if they had to climb on each other to make it happen.

"Well you're a bookstore!"

I remember when booksellers used to shout "buy it if you want to read it" at people. So times they are a changing.

"We really aren't that kind of bookstore any more, we're a liquidation center, presumably it's the discounts that motivate the sale."

Keep in mind in my hand i have a stack of porn, and I'm smiling pleasantly as i have this conversation.

"well i'm probably going to leave without buying if i can't sit down...thats what you're going out of business. You might have a job longer if you let people sit in chairs."'am. Avada Ke-goddam-davra.

"Better minds than mine have tried to figure out why we're going out of business ma'am, i don't think we'll work it out here. But-" This is where i've stopped giving a damn...if you pause at just the right second you can see me shove the damn right back in my pocket, for keepsies. "If you don't buy those books someone will. We've had over 500 transactions in an hour since this liquidation started. We've cut back on some of the niceities because it was a necessity. In order for you to have any idea where a book might be we have to shelve it accurately. We have to have time to do that. We cant ring sales and go picking up the piles of books that people leave laying about because we've provided them with comfy spots to do so..."

British friend from off sides- "Well i'm not buying a book if i can't look at it."

"Someone will. We're not leaving till everything is gone." Bear in mind, still smiling.

"Isn't that counter-intuitive (my word, she said something way longer and more dumb) you're here to sell things."

"They will sell, but those " pause to count. "8 books are not worth the aggravation of having to pick up 100 books from each chair we put out for customers to use. I agree it's inconvenient, but you should blame you're fellow customers for being really inconsiderate with the books they've looked at and chosen not to purchase."

Finger wag. "Uh uh uh, the customer is always right..."

"no, ma'am, if the customer was always right i wouldn't be necessary. The customer is always the customer though, and we do what we can to be as helpful and considerate to them as possible. But trust me when i tell you, the fact that you found any books you were looking for is a direct result of us not having chairs. Theres always the floor."

Realizing she'd lost, she moves on to the next thing..."So how much will this table be?"

"75 dollars."

"75 Dollars! thats expensive"

"No ma'am thats a bargain that table is solid oak. It's old school, high quality"

"will they go down in price?"


"Will i be able to bargain?"


"Who should i speak with?"


pause. Blank stare. "Oh."

Still smiling.

Just an hour later a customer, when asked if she'd like a bag for a SINGLE GREETING CARD, said to one of our most talented sellers "What are you stupid, of course i want a bag."

'Nuff said there.

Then there is this chestnut.

"Cory can someone still use the free book coupon for kids?"

This thing. Oy.

Okay, for all the hell these stupid summer reading giveaways have caused at store level, i would dress up like the Borders Explorer and play that frightening song and dance with all the kiddies a thousand times over to just have the Borders Explorers program back. Buy 10 books, get a free one, we even have snazzy saturn shaped hole punches for your card. Easy Peasy. Now your kid reads 10 books from anywhere, and we give them a free one, but it's one we choose, so congrats you get whatever is left over from our bargain warehouses this year, or 20 or so titles that are classics or universally loved, but still just 20 to choose from. Hey it's free. Oh but we're out, sorry kid who did what was expected of you, you don't get the bribe...i mean reward. And surprise the kid doesn't care, he wants his DS.

Of course i told her no.

"She'd like to speak with a manager."


I Condemnations:
1.)"I have trouble with this every year!"
2.)"you're not going to honor this? REally? It's for kids"
3.)"This is why you're going out of business..."
4.)"Barnes n Noble has the same program and They're doing just fine, I guess you should work there then you'd still have a job."

II Responses (actual spoken words in quotes. Internal monologue...not)

1.) "well the program has some pretty stiff limits, and they're spelled out there on that sheet." Maybe we should give a bonus book for signing to verify you read the damned sheet.

2.) "It's not really our place any more to honor it, all this inventory belongs to the liquidator, and the second they took ownership all these coupons and programs became null and void. It's amazing what a judges gavel can do." And your kids SHOULD read. Do you give them a cookie every time they don't pee in the living room? Do they get a shiny red balloon every time they're polite? Good lord modern parent, stop teaching your kids that basic things that should be done, require remuneration.

3.) "Well we are bankrupt so there is that little issue, i mean your kids read 10 books, which they can get from anywhere btw, there is no purchase requirement, and then we give them a book. Thats a free book. Thats a good deal. Giving away books is probably more likely to cause a book seller to go out of business." Books being our product, and not your right, after all.

4.) "No Barnes and Noble isn't doing just fine, they've been posting losses for the last 2 or three quarters and i've heard rumors that they might begin closing shops soon (i should interject here that i don't want Barnes & Noble to close simply to add credence to the fact that borders didn't suck, it was just the first to die, many fine people work there and we need some damn place to look at a book before we buy it, maybe even while sitting on a chair, i do however think it is likely). I'm sure our death bought them some time, but...probably not much. I did work there, i didn't like it, not for me. I'll be be fine-" You spiteful angry cheap entitled thug. Your kids were probably lying any way. I'm sure you taught them that a day or two before you taught them that being mean and heartless in service of getting your way is an acceptable tactic. Yeah, enjoy their teen years.

But the worst was simple, and unintentional, but made me the most angry.

Mom to little son (maybe 4 years old): "Do you like bookstores? There probably won't be any when you get older."


If there are no bookstores left when your child is older it is because YOU (and your ilk) have accepted that as an inevitability.

If you aren't going to fight for them, if you're just going to give up at the first defeat, then you don't deserve them.



  1. All this, and you didn't even mention the woman who had to push her way through the phalanx of fixtures to sit down in the cafe, even though its clearly not open anymore. She also ignored the obviously private meeting going on, as well.

    It is a shame that working retail often means a downgrade in one's view of humanity. I gave up on most customers a long time ago--for every one who is nice and polite and you want to go out of your way to help, there are four who are nasty, rude, and act though they are entitled to everything they can grab, like they're in one of glass booths where cash gets blown around for thirty seconds.

    It seems like the only way to run a business that deals with customers and not be driven insane by the process is to have one owner-controlled store, where the staff can collectively decide to tell certain customers to f*ck off if they can't maintain even the slightest level of civility.

  2. So would they be the vultures who come to pick at a carcass or the opportunistic infections that spring up when the immune system of a dying person stops working.

    Either way the idea that my grandchildren will live in a world where you buy books via pixels and only read print after it comes out of your printer is pretty scary. As a nerd, I enable such a world. But Pandora's box is open, the iPad exists... I think a big part of getting older is feeling nostalgic for things of the past that the current generation does not understand. The printed word? Will that be Gen X's "Ovaltine" and "Lone Ranger"?

    You are doing a good thing Cory, hospice for a friend we all enjoyed.

  3. Wow. I'm in awe of people's sheer stupidity. I bought fourteen books yesterday at Borders. When the bookseller asked me, "Would you like a bag?", my response was, "Yes, please." It would seem a bit obvious that I'd need a bag for so many books, but why be rude? It never even occurred to me to say anything else. Sometimes I'm ashamed to be part of the human race.

    Cory, I discovered your blog through "Borders Class of 2011 and before" on Facebook. Even as a customer, I'm alternately entertained and saddened by this blog. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it and share it with all of us!

  4. What rob! said.
    Also, I'd just like to point out that a rather significant amount of the people I ring up do not want bags - even if they have as many as 5 books. And many of those come in with their own bags. Hence my asking if they want a bag. (As a shopper, I usually don't want a bag, either.)

  5. >>Mom to little son (maybe 4 years old): "Do you like bookstores? There probably won't be any when you get older."<<

    Ow. Really, woman? You cruel, vicious harpy.

    Also: Your comment, on modern parents and how every good thing children do are rewarded... yeah. That.