Carry On

Going out of business

Lancaster, PA; August 2010

I visited Borders yesterday. Like everyone else, the massive sale signs attracted me there in search of a particular magazine, but Borders has been a common conversation topic around me in the two weeks since I started working at a different chain bookstore. Employees at my job talk about the impending closure amongst each other as well as with customers.

Sometimes my co-workers express sorrow for their fellow booksellers. Other times they express relief that it wasn’t us. Sometimes they cross their fingers that we remain successful, leaving worry about our own futures lurking outside our secure (for now) job shifts. And of course sometimes the closure is used as a reference for the fact that the company we work for now serves the vast majority of the declining book-selling market.

With those exchanges as a backdrop, I wandered through Borders yesterday, taking in the sights of nearly empty shelves, discount signs across all aisles, and computers whose inventory system no longer functions. Thanks to my recently acquired bookseller eyes, I could only view it as a bookstore in decay. And all of us shoppers leisurely picking the remaining stock appeared to me as scavengers plucking the last shreds of meat from a rotting animal.

The man ahead of me at check-out asked the cashier which was busier—right now or Christmas? I grimaced at the clueless question, and the woman replied, “Well this is sadder.” Duh. I’ve worked in many places where I knew I would leave after a certain time period, but I can’t imagine continuing to labor while the workplace around me was being steadily dismantled and my own future left uncertain.

I probably wouldn’t have given the trip much thought, though, if I hadn’t gotten my own bookstore job recently. Being a pretty empathetic person, I imagine I would’ve at least thought about the tough situation the employees there are facing. Border’s is just one of many rotting animals. Whenever I hear about the other thousands of people being laid off from jobs, I try to digest the information in some tangible way, but I often don’t know how. So, like most people, I carry on.

News reports can have an unreal feeling. But lay-offs and closures are too real for too many people in this country. How do we connect the dots and show that these decaying businesses are not just roadkill from a few irresponsible drivers but evidence of an economic system whose entire core is diseased?

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