Ames booksellers split on future of Borders

Cristobal Matibag

Two booksellers in downtown Ames hold very different hopes for Borders, the bookstore chain that filed for bankruptcy Feb. 16.

Jason Daub, the owner of Firehouse Books on 405 Kellogg Ave., wants the retailer to stay open and thrive. Susan Bedell, who owns the Little Bookroom on 328 Main St., has a mixed opinion of the chain and is ambivalent about the prospect of its disappearance.

Since much of Firehouse’s inventory comes to Daub bearing Borders price stickers, Daub jokes that he and the chain have a “symbiotic relationship.” He believes that a brisk trade in new books helps sustain the secondhand book market.

“I hope they can stay in business and do a good business here in town,” he said, speaking of Borders’s Ames store. “It affects the amount of books that are circulating around.”

Bedell, whose store does not stock used books, said she was unsurprised by Borders’s recent troubles.

“I haven’t had a very high opinion of Borders in a while,” Bedell said. “A decade ago, I tended to think more highly of Borders than Barnes & Noble. Now it’s become like any other megastore.”

For now, the Ames location isn’t one of the 200 stores Borders plans to close nationally. But Bedell suspects “those who are thinking far ahead” realize that Borders may not be in Ames much longer.

Borders spokeswoman Mary Davis said the company was not commenting on the possibility of closings beyond those already announced.

Davis also said the company planned to enhance its Borders Rewards Plus loyalty program, improve its website and make its supply chain more efficient. She added that the company was weighing the benefits of offering “additional non-book products” in its stores. She declined to say what specific kinds of new products might be offered.

For her part, Bedell wonders whether expanded services like those Borders may offer are really what book buyers want. She said changes like the rising popularity of e-books and the dominance of online booksellers may dictate a different role for all brick-and-mortar bookstores.

“I see it as a return to the niche businesses bookstores used to be,” Bedell said. “There may be less demand for giant bookstores.”