Borders Closure Helps, Hurts Local Businesses

Dearborn sellers of books and music say they didn't consider Borders to be competition. Instead, they're sad to see another economic hit to the city.

If there’s one group that stands to profit from the closing of 200 Borders stores, it would be local book and music stores.

Dearborn media businesses, however, say they found their niche and means of survival long before the major media chain announced its bankruptcy Wednesday morning, resulting in the impending closure of its . Instead, they said they were just sad for the loss of another longtime Dearborn business.

“I always consider people losing their jobs in the city bad news,” said Dan Merritt of . “I’m real sorry to hear that they closed. I know they had a lot of employees, and that’s just not a good thing. From an economic point of view, I think Dearborn is going to suffer for it.”

Green Brain has specialized in comic book sales, art shows and artist visits since opening 25 years ago at its location on Michigan Avenue. Merritt said the closure of Borders doesn’t really affect his business; it only saddens him to see the city he loves take another economic hit.

The Dearborn Borders employs 25 people, spokesman Jeremy Fielding told Patch Wednesday.

Merritt said Borders’ presence has helped his business by the sharp contrast it provided for comic book fans looking for a haven.

“We've always felt Borders and similar stores complemented our business model by representing but not being able to specialize in our niche product,” he said, adding that Green Brain provides specialization that big chains never could. “Specialists like us stand a better chance to serve the individual needs of readers than large corporations. Our market is sold (as) non-returnable product, unlike the large chains. And most importantly, our ordering is customized to our local buyers, not ordained by some nationwide buyer.

“So we're smarter, our stocking is better thought-out and our customers are more satisfied,” he said.

, which has been in business for more than 50 years, has experienced the same phenomenon, explained manager Rick Leannais.

“It’s always bad news when a business fails,” he said. “But it’ll definitely help us. It already has.”

While Dearborn’s Borders used to carry thousands of music titles, they mostly have carried the top 50 records on the market for the past year, due to consumers’  move toward online sales.

Dearborn Music was there to pick up the slack, and adapt in ways Borders could not, Leannais said.

Analysts say that a sluggish move to digital books and online sales has played into their bankruptcy.

“Business changes every day, so you have to adapt to it,” Leannais said. “People are downloading more music, so what did we do? We brought in more T-shirts and used vinyl. We did stuff you couldn’t get by downloading, so we were able to change with the times. You can sit there and complain about the Internet and stuff like that–embrace it. Do other things. Everyone else is selling on Amazon, you sell on Amazon. Open up a website. Try to go with the flow.”

But what works for some doesn’t work for all.

Green Brain and bookstores like have found that not adapting to online sales has awarded them with customers looking for a classic experience.

"The recession has barely been noticeable here," said Kathy Ann Rodegher, owner of the Michigan Avenue-based bookstore of 13 years, which doesn't even have a website. "We have a great location and population–at the large employers and the universities and colleges–that come in for books. They can't spend a lot of money, but they come in regularly."

Merritt agreed that building a loyal customer base has been key to Green Brain’s success.

“My online presence is marketing only. We don’t do any commerce over the Internet. It is because we are a destination store and it’s part of our mission to be a local comic shop. I don’t want to be a worldwide comic supplier," he said.

And Merritt, like many book lovers, feels there is more to reading a book than just the plotline.

“(Digital comic books) look great on the back-lit reader screens,” he admits. “But reading comics involves more than just your eyes. It's tactile–the feel of the page, the act of turning the page, the interaction of the different parts of the brain that recognize and decipher the dialogue, symbols and subtle interplay of the panels on the page. Even the smell of comics.

“If you take that away and turn it into a purely digital experience, you may as well just be watching TV with a remote in your hand.”

But unfortunately for Borders, a love of books wasn’t enough to help them survive.

Sakura Keast February 17, 2011 at 12:21 PM
Jessica, I really enjoyed reading the viewpoints in your article. I am sad about anything causing job loss, but it was eye-opening and impressive to learn more about the independent businesses in Dearborn. Great article.
City of Dearborn February 17, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Thanks, Sakura! It's great to know that businesses are finding unique ways to survive. And all three in this story have been around for at least 10 years, so obviously they're doing something right!
Ken Leedy February 17, 2011 at 04:38 PM
Jessica: Aside from the usual comments about a city or portion thereof dying, I'm going to miss Borders. The store was close and if I needed something, it was right there. Being in business for ourselves since 1989 in Traverse City and having moved back to Dearborn in '98, we were eager to hang out our shingle "back home." Drug Education & Compliance Systems has called Dearborn home as one a of a number of "home-based" businesses. Our clients receive our services at their own place of business which saves them time, money, and of course, contributes to a healthy workforce. In order to stem the tide of increasing numbers of businesses moving out or closing, How about we shop, buy and support Dearborn. Every little bit helps.
City of Dearborn February 17, 2011 at 06:30 PM
I agree that shopping local helps, Ken, and businesses like yours and the ones mentioned in this article prove that it is possible to survive economic recessions. Conversely, the Borders bankruptcy shows that no business is exempt from economic struggles. It's not always a matter of large corporations surviving while the small businesses fail.
mary jo tetkowski February 17, 2011 at 11:44 PM
The only thing I can't understand: was the Dearborn Border's really an underproducing store? I thought it had a good customer base...


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