I worked for BORDERS bookstore in Portland, OR for almost a year. I applied for a seasonal job right before Christmas 2009 because my roommate worked from them and I wanted a bit of extra cash, and then I ended up staying until October or November the next year.
The company was in danger of bankruptcy in 2009, so it somehow became really important that we “upsold” books to customers. They picked a book a week and asked us to offer it to every customer we spoke to, whether it was related to the customers’ taste or not. And we were pretty much required to speak to every customer: if they were in our section, whenever they opened the door, whenever they were close to us, we had to check in with how they were doing. Some people appreciated it, but some people simply go into bookstores to have a place to be anonymous and to have some alone time, you know?
I really liked the work environment – being in a bookstore, feeling like I had so much knowledge at my fingertips, working with knowledgeable and well-read and thoughtful people – but the corporate part (asking if everyone had a BORDERS reward card, upselling books) started really bothering me after a while. Finally I had decided that I’d rather have a higher quality of life and less money, over more money than a job that I only sort of enjoyed.
After almost two years of trying to keep its head above the Kindle-and-Amazon-infested-waters, BORDERS has shut down. And there’s a Facebook wake for the place where I used to work, commemorating all of the unusual customers that came through the store.
Portland, having a large homeless and transient population, had its own share of weird customers. We had to distribute bathroom coins to anyone who wanted to enter the restroom; if we had left it open to anyone, weird things started to happen.
I’m glad I worked at BORDERS to give me some insight into the corporate world. I’m sad it closed, because it’s always sad when books have no place to go, but luckily, Portland still has Powell’s, an independent bookstore that occupies an entire city block. An entire city block! Powell’s buys and sells books and it’s is so big you can get lost in it. I think it’ll be there for a while. So hooray for independent bookstores.