Outside a Borders' bookstore in London
Outside a Borders' bookstore in London - 
Listen To The Story


Kai Ryssdal: You could say Borders wrote the book on book superstores. It pioneered the concept back in the early 1970s. Now, the chain is writing a new chapter in its history. One that could be its last.

Marketplace's Janet Babin reports.

Janet Babin: Borders was the first book store to actually encourage loitering. Mark Freiman is a retail consultant with Focus Management Group. He says at the time, it was unheard of to offer comfy reading chairs and cafes so shoppers could hang out.

Mark Freiman: It was brilliant. There stores did huge volume; it seemed like they could do nothing wrong.

Borders also created many loyal customers who came of age in its stores. One of them is 20-year-old Stephanie Sears of Wayne, N.J. She even started a Save Borders Facebook page.

Stephanie Sears: My family would go there often. My dad used to call it like Sunday nights at the bookstore, so it would be kind of like a weekly thing.

Other stores like Barnes and Noble copied the Borders model. But then the business changed. Discounters like Walmart and online bookseller Amazon undercut prices. Tablets spurred online book sales.

Borders failed to evolve. In the past few years, it closed hundreds of stores. Freiman, with Focus Management, says Borders still has too many stores, and they're too big.

Freiman: Right now the country is over-stored with those stores, and I think the new model for the way business is being done today is a smaller store.

Meantime, the chain can't pay its bills and is trying to renegotiate contracts with landlords and publishers. Borders insists it has not hired a bankruptcy lawyer. Freiman says if Borders goes under, the entire book publishing industry loses.

In New York, I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.