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Bye, Bye Borders: What Customers Had To Say About Last Stores Closing

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NEW YORK -- The scene this weekend at the last of the remaining Borders bookstores to close was more like a memorial service than a funeral. Shoppers reminisced fondly about their beloved bookseller rather than grieve its loss.

Amid upbeat jazz music and large red-and-yellow signs announcing the "Final Days" of the Borders store in Queens in New York City, customers snagged deals on used chairs and coffee machines. At a Borders in Cincinnati, readers were eager to grab book titles for up to 90 percent off. And signs at a Borders in Cambridge, Massachusetts, implored shoppers to haggle: "No Reasonable Offer Refused."

"I find it really sad," said Victoria Florea, 49, who was looking for discounts this weekend at the Cambridge store so she could use her $50 gift card before it closes. "I'm glad to get these bargains, but I'm sad at the same time."

Borders, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based chain that pioneered the big-box bookselling concept and grew to 1,249 stores at its peak in 2003, will cease to exist by the end of the day on Sunday. It's a victim of a shift in the industry brought on by customers who'd much rather read their favorite titles on an electronic book or tablet computer than turn the page on a paperback. The chain's demise is expected to have wide-reaching effects on everyone from authors and publishers who will have to find new ways to market their work to competitors like Barnes & Noble that will benefit from losing a big rival.

"The absence of Borders is going to be felt across the industry," said Michael Norris, a Simba Information senior trade analyst. "The loss of the `showroom' effect of bookstores is not going to be replaced anytime soon."

Started in 1971, Borders grew to become a giant in the industry, operating Borders and Waldenbooks bookstores. But the company failed to adapt quickly to the changing industry and lost sales to the Internet, discounters and other competition. It filed for bankruptcy protection in February and has since shuttered stores and laid off thousands of employees. Borders began liquidating its remaining 399 stores in July when a $215 million "white knight" bid by a private-equity firm dissolved under objections from creditors and lenders who argued the chain would be worth more if it were liquidated immediately.

A few vestiges of Borders will remain. Books-A-Million is taking over 14 stores. And bidders including Barnes & Noble and Malaysian company Berjaya Books (which operated some Borders in Malaysia) will take over $15.8 million in Borders' intellectual property. That includes trademarks; the Borders, Waldenbooks and Brentano's trade names; Internet domain names; and the Borders.com e-commerce website.

That's little solace to some shoppers who were taking advantage of the deals at the remaining Borders stores this weekend. Many wondered where they would shop once the chain disappears – even though many of them already are migrating to online booksellers and discount chains.

Steve Mannix on Friday carried out 10 books and two magazines for $11.79 total at the Waldenbooks store in Cincinnati's Western Hills neighborhood. Most of the books were graphic novels about vampires, super-heroes and Japanese characters. He said he had been interested in the artwork and stories in graphic novels, but didn't want to pay $20 for one book.

"It's sad," he said, loading the books into the trunk of his car. "I used to come to this store all the time."

Still, Mannix said he reads online and buys most of his books at a Half Price Books discount bookstore, which he says saves him a lot of money. "They really priced themselves out of business," he said of the Waldenbooks store.

At the Queens store in The Shops at Atlas Park in Glendale, half a dozen shoppers milled around scantily filled shelves. Signs touting up to 90 percent off books and 50 percent off fixtures peppered Borders' large glass windows. A wooden sign showed photos of fixtures like coffee machines, lockers and chairs - all marked sold. A bright red display shelf stood empty and abandoned. Sale price: $100.

"What a shame," said Marcin Machula, 40, a trainer from Queens who was in the store over the weekend. He said he has been coming to the Glendale Borders once a month for years to have a cup of coffee and look for books on sports performance. "This place is going to be missed."

At the Borders in the CambridgeSide Galleria mall in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Mary Jane Diodati, a lawyer on disability, also pondered the end of an era.

"I really like the camaraderie and the peace of just being in a book store – it is different from a library, in my opinion," she said.

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AP Writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and Rodrique Ngowi in Cambridge, Massachusetts, contributed to this report.

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