With Borders Gone, Readers at a Loss



Borders' Last Few Days at Time Warner. Photo: Mengwei Chen

You may have heard of a food desert, but have you ever heard of a book desert? Many residents in Midtown are finding out what that means after the recent closing of the Borders store in Time Warner Center on Fifty-ninth Street.

Six weeks after the closing, many residents are at a loss about where they can buy books.  Barnes & Noble closed in Lincoln Square in January 2011, six blocks to the north, leaving New Yorkers with more than a square mile without any major bookstores.

Keigo Kaminage, a Midtown resident, was at the mall doing early Christmas shopping. “I’ve ordered some books on Amazon since Borders closed, but it’s sad, man,” Kaminage said.  “I used to come here a lot, and now I’m buying less books than I used to.”

Many have turned to the Internet to order books or purchase digital versions to read on a Kindle, and others are getting library cards or finding book venders on the street.  But, 10 people interviewed last week agreed:  they are finding themselves reading less because Borders is no longer in the neighborhood. It’s particularly ironic that in a neighborhood served by the iconic Coliseum Bookstore for 32 years before it closed in 2006, there’s now a dearth of books.

At the now vacant Borders store in the Time Warner Center, shoppers were nostalgic as they discussed the demise of the last Borders in Midtown. The company filed for bankruptcy on Feb. 16, and closed its remaining 399 stores in a phase out that ended in September.

Peter Cicero, who lives in the area, said he had been headed to Borders before realizing that after months of 60 to 80 percent off closing deals the store had finally closed.  “Oh, s—.  It’s gone, “ he said to a companion. But Cicero was defiant,  “I don’t care how far I have to travel, I’m going to get the books I set out to buy today, and the closing of Borders will not stop me.”

Other people were similarly defiant.  Roger Hofmann was at Time Warner Center to do some grocery shopping on Sunday morning. “There is no question that the closing of Borders has had an effect on people.  Some friends in the area have told me between the closing of Barnes at Sixty-fifth Street and Borders here, that they read less now.  But you see, I never go anywhere without a book.  I’ve taken to finding small bookstores on the East Side,” he said. “I even started taking a course, so that I could get a membership to the library.  That’s how desperate I’ve become. These closings will not stop me.”

And it hasn’t stopped the general public, either. The closing of Borders for good along with Barnes & Noble’s nationwide  scale back in 2010 has unexpectedly coincided with a proliferation in book sales.  According to BookStats, the deepest, most comprehensive statistical survey ever conducted of the modern U.S. publishing industry, in 2010 there was a 4.1 percent increase over 2008 in the number of books sold.   Furthermore, the spike in sales can’t be attributed only to online purchasing, as excluding the surge in eBook sales, there has been an increase by 5.8 percent since 2008.  In 2010, 2.57 billion books were sold.