Oak Park bookstore calls Borders closure 'devastating'

The Book Table reaches out to customers for input

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

The lone remaining bookstore in downtown Oak Park issued a letter to customers Tuesday, calling news of Borders closing "devastating," and asking patrons how The Book Table can better serve the community in the future.

Here's the unedited letter from co-owners Rachel Weaver and Jason Smith, who first opened The Book Table on Lake Street in 2003:

Dear Customers,

We expect a lot of people to pass through The Book Table over the next few weeks who will want to chat with us about the Borders liquidation. Most of you probably expect us have a lot of strong opinions on the subject, and we do: we have many volumes to say, but they might not all be the things you expected.

First and foremost, we will say flat out: we are not celebrating. Eleven thousand fellow booksellers out of work is a dark day for all of us in the book industry. It's a dark day for publishing when there are 400 fewer outlets for books, when our friends in the already beleaguered publishing industry will face even more rounds of layoffs. It's a sad day for bricks and mortar, when there are that many more people who will turn to the internet, most specifically to one company-to Amazon-to fill their shelves or e-readers with books. It's a sad day for reading when there are fewer communities with bookstores, a place where someone might stumble upon a book to read who otherwise might have gone home to their television or their internet connection for entertainment and companionship. Frankly, speaking as two people who have each worked in the industry for close to two decades, it is just plain devastating.

There is no doubt: Borders changed the industry landscape in the 90s, in some arguably good ways, some bad. We spent most of the 90s working at various independent bookstores in the Lakeview and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. One by one, Borders encroached on them, one by one they closed. So no, we are not without resentment for the company. We are not without criticism of the way they chose to operate over the years, both to the detriment of publishing, and to the detriment of themselves. The company expanded rampantly over the years in the name of an attractive balance sheet, with little thought to any underlying stability. They taught their customers to shop on Amazon rather than develop their own website. They made many mistakes. But at their best, they opened stores where no other bookstore existed for miles around, providing unprecedented access to a wide range of titles in smaller, underserved communities, and that is no small thing.

Of course, we hope we can pick up some of the business that Borders leaves behind. But we do not delude ourselves into thinking that we will be the winners in this situation. Many Borders customers will head to their nearest Barnes & Noble; a vast number will turn to Amazon. For many, simply picking up the latest bestsellers while at Target or Costco will satisfy their needs. For some this may even push them into adopting e-books. We will likely pick up a percentage of the business as well, but we are well aware we don't have the name recognition or even a fraction of the capacity to take over what Borders provided for Oak Park.

We do want to take this opportunity, however, to address our customers and to say thank you. Thank you for supporting us. Thank you for supporting a bricks and mortar bookstore. Through sales tax, through donations, through our programs and activities, we work to actively enrich Oak Park and its surrounding communities. We are endlessly grateful to all of you for welcoming us and allowing us to have our little niche in an industry we adore.

We would also like to ask of you at this moment, very simply, to think about what is good for your community when you choose where and how to shop. Think about what your sales taxes pay for. Think about what kind of community you want to live in, not online but right here in the analog world. And remember us if you decide to go digital: it is not synonymous with shopping with Amazon or other major chains. We have affordably priced Google eBooks on our website (which are compatible with most everything as long as you forego the Kindle, and instead choose any of the other numerous excellent devices available).

In the coming months, we will be reaching out to all of you to consider how we can better serve the community in Borders' wake. Please consider our ears open and willing to listen to your suggestions in the meantime.


Rachel Weaver & Jason Smith
The Book Table

Reader Comments

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Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 23rd, 2011 2:24 AM

We don't get books from Amazon or Borders. We get books from the Oak Park Public Library. Since OPPL joined SWAN (a network of 80 libraries with over a million titles)last year, my family has read hundreds of books. We simply don't have the space to house all the books we read, and it's nice that such books are already paid for through our property tax dollars. We enjoy reading an awful lot. But there are very few books we want to own. Probably, at best, a 50:1 ratio.


Posted: July 21st, 2011 11:08 AM

Jason and Rachel need to get over themselves.

bpj from fp  

Posted: July 20th, 2011 9:17 AM

"Many Borders customers will head to their nearest Barnes & Noble; a vast number will turn to Amazon. For many, simply picking up the latest bestsellers while at Target or Costco will satisfy their needs." ftw: you can also go to a library.

Vince from oak park   

Posted: July 20th, 2011 8:48 AM

I will miss borders and that really good looking red head that works there.


Posted: July 19th, 2011 11:13 PM

Change and growth in a dynamic economy like the U.S. is inevitable. Independent bookstores were understocked, inefficient, and overpriced. Hence, they were replaced by chain bookstores. Then the online economy came along, and Amazon operated even more efficiently than chain bookstores and put some/many of them out of business. Then technology created ereaders, and are putting hard copy books out of business. Some enlightened people would call this "Progress which benefits the consumer".

Mary Anne Brown from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 10:48 PM


Borders Employee from oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 10:17 PM

Jason and Rachel: I want to thank you for your nice article, I have so much to say about many of the thoughts presented in the article and in the comments, but chose to wait until our liquidation is complete. I was born and raised in this village and live here now with my Husband..I appreciate your article and thank you for your gentle kind words, my hope is that you will get more business to keep one bookstore open in Oak Park, but it is indeed up to the those who live here.

Dave Coulter  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 8:44 PM

As long as I can remember Oak Park has always had a solid roster of bookstores to explore. Well, some of those bookstores are now gone. We can all point to the reasons why: lousy economy, e-books, etc. Are bookstores doomed? I hope not, but I think it should force writers and publishers to put out a product that people value. Who knows, this could lead into a whole new era of books? No batteries or computers needed!

Tamburine Man  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 7:30 PM

@Fred, I imagine you see that look on most everyone all the time. I agree with you that you should do all your shopping at home where you won't bother anyone but your unlucky family.

Ray from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 7:27 PM

Brick & Mortar operations have been reduced to browsing shops, not a destination for something you might be looking for in particular. There simply isn't enough square feet to stock an inventory suitable for prevailing tastes and inclinations. Secondly, they are unable to compete with online discounters. Shopping electronically is a no-brainer.


Posted: July 19th, 2011 6:55 PM

Fred, maybe that "look on her face" means she's thinking. You should try it some time.

Ilona Mestril from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 6:34 PM

Even if you are using a Kindle, you can shop at the Book Table. Buy your Google e-book in the e-pub format, cycle through Calibre and you are good to go.

Fred Tamburino from Oak Park   

Posted: July 19th, 2011 5:46 PM

The lady at the Booktable always has a puss on her face like people are bothering her. WE get or books online.

artchix17 from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 5:22 PM

If the Book Table proprietors care so much about their customers, they could be a lot friendlier (especially to high school students looking for work). I've found the Borders staff more accessible over the years, and often very well-informed.

Rhonda Ditzel from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 4:51 PM

I will want my kids to shop for books at the Book Table- Hope there will be more kids/preteen/teen titles to choose from.

Dave Moeller from River Forest  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 4:47 PM

The Book Table is both a community treasure and an endangered species. We are fortunate to have such a fine, eclectic bookstore serving us and to have its proprietors represent such intelligence, sensitivity and devotion to their calling (I can't call what they do merely a "business).

Cindy from Chicago  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 4:41 PM

Well said!

epic lulz  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 4:34 PM

I'm used to seeing every possible complaint articulated in these forums, from the critical to the mundane to the ridiculous, but to see someone complain about The Book Table putting Borders out of business is LOL hilarious and definitely deserves an award.

paul clark  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 4:33 PM

A wise and empathetic letter. I wonder about the space that Borders is vacating. Borders used less than half of the space of the institution it replaced -- Marshall Field's. It's hard to think, in this retail environment, of a store that would use even half of the space that Borders used.

Merri Monks from Des Moines, IA  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 4:22 PM

Thank you for your wonderful letter, and the terrific selection you have always offered. I used to live in Oak Park, now live in Des Moines, and I would rather wait to spend my book dollars in your store than to order online. What goes around, comes around. Borders put many independent booksellers out of business. The Book Table, on the other hand, contributes part of their profits to worthwhile non-profits in Oak Park. Thank you for all that you do.--Merri Monks

Dan Lauber from River Forest  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 4:14 PM

To complete the picture: Out of the tens of thousands of books published in a typical year, 100 to 300 sell over 100,000 copies. For independent publishers, sales of 10,000 constitute a "best seller" (and we had a few). eBooks sell for so little that publishers and, by extension authors, make very little per copy sold. Given the time needed to write a quality book, most authors earn far less than minimum wage. I'm glad to be out of publishing and don't miss the ruthless behavior of Amazon at all

Dan Lauber from River Forest  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 4:07 PM

Borders is yet another victim of the vicious price-cutting generated by Amazon.com and even The Book Table. Having published books for 20 years, I can reveal that the vast majority of books barely turn a profit. Average sales are 3,000 copies. Amazon.com demands a 55% discount; bookstores generally get a 40-42% discount -- and they return damaged books for full refund (name another industry that allows this). Publishers are being destroyed and ebooks could be the last nail in the coffin.

Bill Sullivan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 4:03 PM

This is a beautiful and honest letter from some classy folks.

Correction is Corrected  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 4:01 PM

Dan thank you. :) I forgot about the distinction. However, I just worried that some would forget about the marvelous treasure of Magic Tree.

Jan Stephens  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 3:58 PM

Thank you for your very open and honest letter. While these are dark days for print material, your establishment has outstanding service. I know I won't be patronizing Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 3:53 PM

Dear Correction from Oak Park, you have inadvertently stumbled into one of the more curious confusions in Oak Park. The Book Table is in Downtown Oak Park. Magic Tree is in The Avenue. Two semi-distinct, at least in some of our minds, shopping districts. Now many average folks think anything on Lake from Tasty Dog west is Downtown. Others make a distinction. And now the effort is to create The Downtown Districts including DTOP, the Avenue and South Marion. So you need a scorecard or a map.

Chris Carrier  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 3:49 PM

Losing two major bookstores in a year is horrible. I wish Barbara's could give it another try, given the absence of Borders... or even B&N taking it over. Please, OP, don't let Walgreens take over the space or something equally worthless.

Correction from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 3:47 PM

The article staets, "The lone remaining bookstore in downtown Oak Park." This is incorrect. While I appreciate this letter and am sad to lose a bookstore, I wanted to note Oak Park has another bookstore downtown and it is a locally owned store -- Magic Tree Bookstore on Oak Park Avenue just off of Lake.

Alan Gorstein  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 3:14 PM

Thanks for sharing this letter. It is certainly not time to celebrate, but definitely worthwhile to analyze our shopping habits. It is testament to your hard work and attention to detail that you guys have survived this tough economic downturn. I only hope that consumers look at the "big picture" when they make a purchase and ultimately decide to support these smaller brick and mortars. The level of service and overall experience blows away the "Amazons" of the world. Best of luck!

Carol Gulyas from Bloomington, Indiana  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 2:56 PM

Thanks for this large-spirited letter and for continuing to serve the community of book-lovers.

David Gulbransen from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2011 2:55 PM

The closing of any bookstore is tragic. I had no love of Borders--in my college town they put one of my favorite independent sellers out of business by opening in the same shopping center! But losing any bookstore hurts, especially one as visible as the Oak Park store was. Absolutely no lover of books wins in this situation.

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