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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Border's May Close Uptown and Lakeview Stores

Those hoping for a Border's store for Howard St. or any other Rogers Park location may now put that dream to rest, possibly for good.

I don't know how I missed the announcement in a March, 2007 issue of Crain's Chicago Business that the company is seeking to sublet four locations along the lakefront, but just read it in a recent post in Hyde Park Progress. Searching a little further, I found a few more articles, stating that the stores to be closed will be North & Clybourn; Diversey & Broadway; Broadway in Uptown; and Hyde Park.

Could it be that the failure to attract chains like Border's to Rogers Park may have a cause extraneous to the neighborhood and its well-publicized problems? My personal take is that there is a vast oversupply of redundant retail already, thanks to massive public subsidies for large-scale retail development, in combination with the growth of internet commerce. I have always wondered who supported all the repetitive shopping centers and strip malls, and it looks increasingly like the local taxpayers have been footing the bill for about 60% of the shopping malls and big-box power centers that have proliferated over the past 30 years.

I personally plead guilty to contributing to the internet shopping trend, as I buy books from Amazon.com when I can't get them from the public library. I feel guilty about this, because I enjoy loitering in the Uptown Border's store and so buy as many gifts there as I can, along with day planners and art books. However, browsers who buy the occasional art book or latte don't support a lavish space like this, and Border's is understandably not interested in functioning as a public library.

I have a feeling that we will witness massive consolidation and shrinkage of large-scale retail over the next twenty years, since there is so much more of it than is justified by consumer spending alone. Now that local political leaders are beginning to realize that throwing taxpayers money at unprofitable businesses, such as shopping malls to replace others a mile down the road, perhaps the frantic race to the bottom - that of seeing who can throw the most taxpayer's money at the largest number of big corporations who then move on in three years in search of their next $100MM "gimme"- will cease, and small entrepreneurs will find it rewarding to open small, specialized stores that form the fine-grained retail districts that give a neighborhood character and charm, and also give it a committed entrepreneurial class whose members are motivated by the desire to build homes and businesses in a neighborhood they love and care about, and to participate in a business that interests them, rather than a class of Corporate Welfare recipients who will move out and leave behind a vacant, useless building when some other community dangles a bigger carrot in front of their noses.

So maybe, down the road, we might get an Unabridged Books or Transitions instead, or a place founded and operated with love and commitment by a local citizen.

11 comments:

Paradise said...

Yes, and they demolished a beautiful hotel that Charlie Chaplin Gypsy Rose Lee, Gloria Swanson and many other performers used stayed in, AFTER a coalition of comunity groups and residents tried to save it. To put the Borders in. I would feel some satisfaction to see it failed, but what's the point. The destruction is irreversible

The North Coast said...

Personally, I was never impressed with that hotel and could never grieve for it the way I do the Edgewater Beach, or would for the Broadmoor on Howard or some other extremely beautiful structure.

I like places like Border's, but I liked the great independents of old much better, and these places might still be making it were it not for the massive subsidies tossed at national retail chains in the form of 20-year tax abatements and TIF funding. How can anyone call a system "free market" that taxes some businesses to subsidies others, that makes you subsidize your own destruction at the hands of your politically connected competition? Or that makes you subsidize business you would personally never patronize, through your taxes?

I'd rather have it than other types of businesses, but not at the expense of the truly superior independents, and I certainly don't want to be taxed to support it.

And if no one wants to support it by patronizing it, it needs to go.

Paradise said...

Borders used to be a great independent book store. Ann Arbor MI used to be one of my favorite destinations around Detroit because of it. They carried South End Press and other small independent publishers you couldn't find anywhere else. They were complemented by the Dawn Treader and other smaller used and speciality book stores all in a few blocks downtown. It also used to be as inexpensive as they could get by with. When they went corporate and national they dropped the independent publishers, South End at least and pushed the price of books through the roof. I despised them after that. never went in there until fifteen years later, I visited one, seems they have a nice selection of magazines, but still no South End. You can tell they aren't doing well, I've seen ads in the window for books at nine and ten dollars. It's not enough to lure me back. I prefer the library and used and the internet. When a book costs something that reflects the wages they are comfortable payng people, I might consider new books, but I doubt from a corporate chain like Borders. They have no regard for local communities. They exist solely to turn a profit for their investors. Good riddance. It just goes to show that once they were part of a thriving book district in Ann Arbor when they were independent, but couldn't make it in Hyde Park, probably Chicago's largest collection of book stores and a book buyer destination. They are inherently out of touch with neighborhoods.

The North Coast said...

My feeling is that they were opening a lot more glossy, oversized stores than the consumer base could support to begin with, and these days I'm suspicious of that. I've learned that taxpayers have footed the bill for a very large part of most of the major retail development in most places over the past 25 years, which means that the economic benefit of so much retail is pretty doubtful.

When you think about it, why does there have to be so much redundant retail everywhere. I can remember the days when most denizens of big cities did their shopping downtown. For example, the large department store chains did not open their first branches in outlying neighborhoods and suburbs until the early 50s. Before that, you went downtown for just about everything but basic needs like groceries and utilitarian clothing. There would be a few retail districts in really dense neighborhoods, but nothing like the proliferation of 100,000 sq ft big box centers, and major shopping malls spaced two miles apart, that we have now. My feeling is that this never did make economic sense, and that if the retailers had had to carry the risk themselves, they would never have built so much.

Paradise said...

Its ridiculous that Borders can't pay a living wage to its workers, either. Mom and Pop bookstores pay an average of three dollars an hour more to their employees than Borders does. Borders is fighting to keep its own employees from forming unions. There's no econonimcs of scale in terms of better jobs or better prices there. It's a greedy theiving operation and the sooner they are out of the city, the sooner we can rebuild. A mom and pop store doesn't have to contribute all the profits to the corporate take and millions of dollars in salalries.

The North Coast said...

I personally have never heard of ANY bookstore paying its employees a "living wage", and having been close to owners of independent bookstores, I can tell you even the owners are lucky to make much more.

I considered entering this business back in the days when independents were prevalent, because of my love of books, but I was scared off by the economics of it. I'm glad I had sense enough to be scared, but it something I might like to do in my old age just to support the trade.

Publishing is not much better, at least if you do it ethically and try to support and promote fine writers. Standing on principle is never easy. Salaries in publishing have always been notoriously low, and so have profits for traditional publishers, who almost don't exist anymore.

These days, a book is packaged to be a best seller, and marketed accordingly. All the marketing goes into a pre-selected "winner". From what I've heard, a book is given only a month to "flash" and if it doesn't, to the remainder pile it goes. This is the way things have been done for the past 30 years, and the deterioration of literate culture is helped along by the electronic media, that help shorten people's attention spans and demotivate them to search out what isn't in front of them.

If the death of Border's and Barnes & Noble will help the rebirth of the independent bookseller, I'm all for it. As I said, I enjoy hanging out in the Border's on Broadway, but I enjoy Unabridged and Transitions so much more.

I believe that we are on the eve of a massive shift in the retail landscape, that will see a lot of consolidtion and closure of many big megachains. Look at Macy's. The Marshall Field's unit here and Famous Barr unit in St. Louis are disappointments, yet Famous at least was a St. Louis institution for 140 years before, and very profitable. I think we will see a lot of consolidation here, as people signal, through their buying or refusal to buy, their preference for local operations. I predict that in the next 20 years we are going to see both retail, and manufacturing, relocalize significantly, out of necessity.

Paradise said...

It depends on which ones you are comparing. If it's a tiny store compared to a large Borders, they probably don't pay more than a Borders, but between stores of a similar size and revenues the independent store pays more.

You can read about it in the press about the union drive among Borders employees.

Couch Captain said...

Should we feel sad for a company that doesn't respect it's workers? Then again it's basic capitalism.

Yeah I feel guilty too about seeking the best price. Home depot over Devon, makes me wonder how the ma and pa store will survive the new American future. Plus Home Depot is a large republican donor.

The North Coast said...

Home Depot is yet another, and major, Corporate Welfare recipient, a place that never builds a store without a "gimme" from the local authorities such as TIF funding or a 20-year- tax abatement.

Let's pull the plug on all the corporate welfare and see how fast places like HD, Walmart, Home Depot, and other major chains shrivel. Let's see if the mall developers keep building million-sq foot malls 3 miles down the road from those they built just 3 years before.

It's obscene that a small business owner who has to scare up his own financing and put everything he owns or will own for the rest of his life, at risk, has to subsidize through his taxes, his much larger and politically connected competition.

The Republicans are the worst offenders in this dept but the Dems are no slouches, as witness the quilt of TIF districts this city has been turned into.

And we are all paying through the nose for it. Whatever it is you pay for a mixer at Target or shirts at Walmart or paint at Home Depot, you can figure that you paid a premium for that article in taxes, in that you had to pay more in property taxes, directly as an owner or indirectly as a renter, to offset those that were NOT paid by these Welfare Recipient businesses.

Amy said...

If you haven't read the book Big Box Swindle, check it out -- it's a great indictment of taxpayer-supported chain stores and all the social ills associated with them. No community has ever been saved by luring big chains with tax breaks. Locally owned stores are the way to make communities thrive in the long term.

You can find the book at Women & Children First or one of your other local booksellers : )

The North Coast said...

Thanks, Amy, another "must read" for my list.

Taxpayer assistance to private enterprise is one more idea that we can't seem to move away from, as municipalities are locked in a frantic race to the bottom to see who can throw the most money at businesses to attract "economic development".

People don't stop to ask just how the city gains from giving away its tax base and who is gaining from this development, and who is footing the bill.

The result is the impoverishment of the local tax base. Ironically, the TIFs, that are meant to combat blight, do the most to contribute to the impoverishment of the area. The economic damage that extensive TIF districts have done to Chicago almost can't be calculated. Almost every one of the 140 or so TIF districts in Chicago has failed of its stated purpose, and poorer communities, notably poor, blighted Pamona, CA, have financially collapsed themselves because the TIFs have deprived them of the tax revenues necessary to maintain services and pay their bills.