Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bibliophile-About-Town: Visiting the Borders Concept Store in Wareham, Mass.

Last Saturday, after running some errands, my husband and I decided to take a ride down to Boston's South Shore, to visit the town of Wareham, and the new Borders Concept Store, which had just opened a couple of days before.

First, let me be clear about one thing: I love Borders. It has always been my favorite of the big-box bookstores, hands down. I love the Boston stores (there are two now in downtown Boston) and I've spent countless hours in them shopping, browsing, reading, hanging around with friends- you name it. I read a lot of literary fiction, and I love to browse, and two things have always been true for me about Borders- I can always find what I'm looking for, and they have great displays. I also love their in-store pickup service. I love indie bookstores too, but they are different, and provide a different experience; basically I'll shop for books anywhere but when it comes to those big stores, Borders is just my favorite.

So I had high hopes on visiting the Concept Store, and a lot of questions. What exactly is a "concept store"? How was it going to be different from the regular Borders? What are all these kiosks and computer stations? Luckily for me, the manager of the Wareham Concept Store, Mary Dillon, was nice enough to take some time from her workday to do an impromptu interview with me and gave me lots of really good information. I also found this video, wherein Borders CEO George Jones gives an introduction to the Concept Store idea:

Wow, look at all the books, I thought as I wandered the gorgeous displays just inside the entry- curving tables laden with new books, standing and in piles, offering themselves up for browsing and handling. Then I noticed the excellent signage, raised above the shelves for easy navigation. Ms. Dillon told me that the company had brought in merchandisers just to design all this spiffy shelving, signs and displays, and all the work really shows. It's gorgeous, eye-catching and made me want to buy stuff. A lot of stuff!

The idea behind the Concept Store seems to be to provide more services than are traditionally associated with a bookstore, and to locate those services in appropriate areas of the store. These areas are called "destination areas" and include cooking, wellness and travel. Kiosks in these areas allow customers to search for recipes and even arrange vacations right in the store. The children's area is likewise filled with a combination of books and educational toys- to my librarian's eye, maybe a few too many toys- but the idea behind this merchandising is to pair the books with other materials of interest to the customer.

One of the most visible distinctions between the Concept Store and the ordinary Borders is the media area. It's smaller than in most Borders; instead of a vast selection of CDs, there are workstations where users can download songs and either burn them to CD or download them right into their MP3 player- as long as you don't use an iPod! Hopefully this oversight will be fixed quickly. I also learned about Borders' new self-publishing venture, which is operating in conjunction with The service allows customers to publish their own books and ties them into Borders by allowing others to order self-published books in-store. In the future there are also plans to have a section of the store where people can actually buy self-published books, and to hold author readings for self-published Borders authors as well.

The store also boasts a nice Seattle's Best Coffee outlet, thoughtfully set up with a huge bookcase in front of the seating area for privacy and quiet. The cafe also has outdoor seating, an added bonus. We stayed and relaxed with an ice coffee for a few minutes after speaking with Ms. Dillon and liked it very much.

Overall I really enjoyed my visit to the Borders Concept Store. It's too far away from where I live (1-hour plus driving time) to go there too often, and I am blessed to be in a great community for bookstores, but I have a feeling it's going to be a real asset to the Wareham area, where someone told me it is the only bookstore in a 30-mile radius. I hope they stay open late and take advantage of the hang-out traffic- the Borders nearest me closes at 9 and on those nights when I'm out late and want to browse or grab a coffee, I have to go to that other big chain bookstore. Oh well. It's a really nice store. I gather that the company is planning to open a total of 14 of these stores nationwide- that's too few, in my opinion. I'd love to see one of the downtown Boston stores converted into a Concept Store, so that there's one closer to me!

Is there a Concept Store near you? Want to learn more from Borders? Go to the PR page here.