Bookstore Wars

A few months before the publication of Laura J. Miller's new book Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption, which deals with the rise of the megabookstore and the demise of the beloved indie book seller, Barnes & Noble opened yet another Dallas location right across the street from a Borders Books and Music. Miller, perhaps, could do book-signings at both. Or picket both. Or stand at the intersection of Preston Road and Royal Lane and voice her "dissatisfactions with individual and communal well-being."

Nonetheless, it still baffles me: Just why did Barnes & Noble open directly across the street from Borders Books & Music in Preston Royal? It didn't seem to make a bit of sense, considering that Borders location--the chain's first in the city more than a decade ago--is still its most popular local outlet; it hosts more local events and outta-town authors than any other Borders in town (Rick Reilly, the great Sports Illustrated columnist, will be there June 7 to pimp his new book Shanks for Nothing). And Barnes & Noble has a location not far away: on Northwest Highway, across the street from NorthPark Center. But as it turns out, Borders got a little worried about the new neighbor, and with good reason: It's a better bookstore, as far as chains go, with a better cafe, a better DVD section, a better kids' area and a better all-around vibe. (Same books, though.)

Borders was once a great all-around destination: When it opened in the early '90s, it was locally run by thoughtful staffers who treated the place like it was a little shop around the corner. The CD store, which was a separate part of the store till it was recently and rather callously incorporated into the main space, used to sell not only chart-toppers but also oddball indie releases and hard-to-find imports ranging from obscure Texas-Czech collections to rockabilly comps. But it has long since morphed into a generic, bland bookstore--like Barnes & Noble, which even has a chain (Starbucks) inside its chain store.

Lest it be outdone, last week the Preston Royal Borders debuted its new cafe area...which is now a Seattle's Best Coffee franchise. The whole eat-and-drink area's been remodeled, and now you can actually grab a decent sandwich to go with your overpriced joe. That's fine, as it goes, but I liked Borders Books and Music so much better when it worried about selling books and music. --Robert Wilonsky

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