About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Borders Westwood

I just updated a blog post about bookstores that are set to close, and as promised I wanted to talk a little more about the Westwood Borders.

This was one of the very first Borders to open in Southern California, store #56, and one of the very first Borders I'd ever visited on the West Coast. That would have been in 1996 when I went out for the WorldCon in Anaheim, and made the rounds of what was then a relatively small selection of stores in the earlier days of the book superstore era. If memory serves, Borders in Westwood, West Hollywood, South Bay/Torrance and Brea would have been on the list.

It wasn't a great store for sf/fantasy, but it was a major location. I mean, you didn't have a lot of superstores then, they were big news, and this one was huge. Lots of room for books, for music, for videos, for everything. A United Artists movie theatre triplex was on the next block. Godawful underground parking garage, personified why I've enjoyed LA more now that I'm not renting a car.

But oh, how times have changed.

How many 1980s era sloped floor multiplexes are still around? They sucked, most of them. The screens weren't that big, you could hardly see over anyone in the next row. That UA multiplex next door to the Borders is long since a drugstore. A few miles south on Westwood Blvd. there's a fancy new Landmark Cinemas. I'm sure the loss of the movie theatre hurt traffic at the Borders.

There were three times as many Borders in southern CA in summer 2008 than in summer 1996. And B&N as well. Guess what's next to that spiffy new Landmark Cinemas a few blocks down Westwood Blvd? A spiffy newer B&N!

And then there's that whole Borders: Books Music Movies kind of thing that you had going when the Borders in Westwood opened up many many years ago. That's why the store was so big, after all. Because it had a really big book section, a really big music section, a really big movie section. In a 25,000 square foot store as Borders has been downsizing the music and movies sections at most locations in the past five years, they could put in a little toy/game stuff and a bigger bargain books section and kind of fill out the space. There was no possible way to do that in Westwood. You can't justify expanding the book section when people are migrating to e-books, this store was made for 1995 and now its 2010, and Borders had no idea how to fill the space in Westwood. So they didn't. The last renovation they just took some bookshelves, blocked off a big section of the upstairs, at least 1/8 maybe even 1/6 of the total square footage of the store, and called it an "events area." Where they really didn't have very many events.

Well, you can't run a business too well when you're renting 35,000 square feet of space for something you can do comfortably in 25,000 square feet of space.

And in the mid to late 1990s, Borders built a lot of very big boxes. With their same store sales drops in recent years, some of those big boxes could be doing two-thirds the sales per square foot of five or eight years ago.

I'm extremely saddened to see the Westwood Borders closing. It has been a part of my life for fifteen years, not a big part but a kind of comfort to knowing that it was there waiting for me.

But if Borders is going to be around five years from now, they've got to find ways to downsize large chunks of their real estate portfolio, or they've got to hope a whole lot of people have a deep and abiding urge to build their bears at their local Borders, because there is no way there's a viable business in five years selling books, music and movies in a lot of these stores at their current square footage. Many of the Borders which are confirmed as closing I haven't been to, but the Thousand Oaks store was another big and uneconomical box certainly.

B&N hasn't been hit quite as badly by this because their movie and music sections in stores that had were generally much smaller. They are now hoping to fill some of these sections with expanded toy and game boutiques. A B&N in Manchester CT that I will see during Thanksgiving week is one of the test stores for this section, and I'm looking forward to checking it out. And I've devoted most of this post to the problems at Borders, but don't think that B&N, even with the Nook, is immune. Does your local B&N look like it did last year? No way! They've added their Nook boutique, and more toys and games are on the way. Borders has bigger problems and more vulnerability, but if bookstores are going to be around in 2015 they can't look like they did in 1995.

It is a little bit frightening to think in a capitalist world just how quickly things can change. In the 1980s, the sloped floor six-screen cinema was really quite the big deal. Ten years later, the Borders in Westwood was quite the big deal. I hope the book superstore will have a bigger, longer, better run than the sloped floor multiplex, but there are no guarantees.

You can read here the latest earnings release from Books a Million. Same store sales down 5.8%, a small loss in the pre-holiday quarter, as weak hardcover sales don't compensate for strength in areas like bargain books. I've posted here about the declining hardcover sales we're seeing on many books, and the uncertainty of just how many are lost and how many are just migrating to e-books.


Elizabeth Moon said...

In Austin, Borders closed a store (too small, they said) that was convenient--immediately off the i83 service road, and an easy couple of turns from a B&N, so I could sign stock at both (and shop both) in a short time. Instead, they built a huge store in an inconvenient location (off Mopac), in what I call a "destination mall"--one of those with twisty-windy streets, badly arranged parking, and stores I wouldn't shop at anyway...but it aims to keep you there all day, rather than making it convenient to get in, buy what you want, and get out.

I used to stop by there at least every other week, and never came out without a book or CD or both because of the convenient location. Now...I've been there twice in the several years since they opened. I can't afford the extra time it takes to drive off my homeward route, navigate the miserably inconvenient mall maze, and drive back to my route. The last time I was in, the customers were thin on the ground...so is this one that's going to close in the near future? Wouldn't surprise me.

Anonymous said...

eReaders have little to do with it. They have largely failed to ignite, mainly because they are ultimately way more expensive and inconvenient than books. Mostly it's a combination of online book sales, the economy, and the sad fact that most people would rather spend their time having pointless text conversations with their equally vaccuous friends or surfing the net for incorrect info than reading.

Anonymous said...

I used to work at the Westwood store and it was wonderful! We had a great group of people at that time, which would have been 1999-2000. I even worked with Jorge Garcia (Hurley on Lost) he was a music expert. Sad to hear its closing, but makes sense with all the money they are losing. Hopefully the people still there can go to other locations.

Anonymous said...

I was going to the college nearby when this place opened. I remember walking over there and finding out that it was still under construction.

In the early years, it was always crowded with college students. Some years back, I went to this store and found they had removed alot of the tables and chairs that the college kids would use.

This store put quite a few "Mom and Pops" catering to the college students nearby out of business. I remember many college profs asking us English majors to support the "Mom and Pops" around the area.

Now Borders :: Blockbuster. It's a cycle, I guess.