Customers are braving rain, wind and crowds to take advantage of liquidation sales at the Borders bookstore on Pacific Avenue. Large red, yellow and black signs announce the bookseller’s liquidation sale, signaling the reality of the company’s recent bankruptcy.
By April, only the building that housed the Santa Cruz location of the megastore will remain.
When the store first arrived in Santa Cruz, Borders’ opening was controversial. And for some locals, its closure will not be a major loss.
One customer, standing in line with a large stack of audio CDs, said that she did not frequent Borders for anything but music, and is a loyal customer to the locally owned Bookshop Santa Cruz. She said the closure of Borders will not hugely affect her buying practices, nor will she miss the superstore.
The store’s closure may be seen as an indicator not only of the national economic downturn, but of the shift occurring in the production and sales of print media to electronic books and Internet booksellers.
“Just because Borders is closing doesn’t mean we’re in the clear,” said Casey Coonerty Protti, owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz. “Our biggest competitor is Amazon.”
Electronic books sales increased 176.6 percent in 2009, according to the annual industry statistics released by the Association of American Publishers. Thanks perhaps in part to sales of Amazon’s Kindle, e-books have now surpassed the company’s overall sales of paperback or hardcover editions.
Internet book sales have steadily increased with the presence of online megastores like Amazon. A recently issued press release detailing Amazon’s growth in the last fiscal quarter of 2009 announced that the Internet retail giant had increased sales by 36 percent. Worldwide media sales alone increased 12 percent.
The online retailer’s growth stands in stark contrast to the losses companies like Borders have suffered. Borders noted in a press release on Dec. 9 of last year that sales had decreased in the company’s third quarter by 17.6 percent “from the same period a year ago.” Now Borders faces crippling debt to several publishers and is undergoing a reorganization of its business, resulting in the closure of 200 stores nationwide, 35 in California alone.
Protti said customers should buy at local businesses rather than online retailers like Amazon to support the community and the growth of book culture. Amazon does not offer the same opportunities that bookstores do, she said.
“They don’t have author events,” Protti said. “You can’t interact with other human beings. It really detracts from the power of what books can do.”
Local bookstores provide a place for dialogue about literary, social, political and economic issues and events, Protti said.
Bookstores are “a place where new ideas can flourish,” she said.
Brianda Alvarez, a third-year sociology and Latin American and Latino studies double major, said she does try to support bookstores over online sales because she enjoys the atmosphere of a bookstore.
“I would sometimes just go into [Borders] and read, and spend a couple of hours,” Alvarez said. “I feel like it’s an art to be able to browse books and hold them physically.”
Despite the cultural appeal, Alvarez said that price plays a large part in where she shops and that, “to save financially, I would buy online,” as opposed to at a bookstore.
Like Alvarez, fourth-year history major Lucy Vargas said price plays a factor in whether she buys online or at a local store. Vargas recognizes the appeal of online shopping and sees why it has grown to be so popular.
“It’s convenient,” Vargas said. “You can stay at home and check your e-mail and buy a book [all at once].”
Now that Vargas is graduating, she isn’t sure where she will be shopping for books. But with the Borders in her hometown also closing, she will most likely shop online more, she said.
Protti stressed the importance of bookstores in establishing an open and educated community.
“We really believe books can change lives and part of that is having a space to discuss books,” Protti said. “That is what is in jeopardy.”