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Carol Hoenig Headshot

Where Will Books Find Their Champion?

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Seventeen years ago about this time I was part of a staff of about 100 that helped open a Borders Books & Music store on Long Island. The energy was palpable, especially since we were there when the newly-built shelves were empty and it was our job to fill them by unpacking the hundreds of shipped boxes with just-published books and those that had been around for a long time, sometimes with a limited audience. The music being stocked was also a huge mix of new releases, along with the more eclectic. It was a time that bode well for both the publishing and music industries.

Back then, before a Borders employee was hired, we were to take an intensive test to assess our knowledge about the products we'd be selling. In other words, was this just going to be a job or did we have a passion for those goods? I have clear memories of the excitement I felt whenever I walked into that store, one filled to capacity, wondering what new book I'd come across that day and simply must own. Staff could not just point to a section, directing a customer to where the book should be, but had to walk the customer to the section, find the book and hand it to them. Sometimes it was like searching for a needle in a haystack, but the jubilation that abounded when the book was found was cause for celebration -- not to mention a sale.

Nothing seemed amiss when a couple of years later I transferred to help open the Park Avenue Borders in Manhattan where an entire floor was dedicated to music. Those were the days, my friend. We thought they'd never end. By then, I was a Community Relations Coordinator and then a National Event Specialist, my office in that Park Avenue store. Often, in order to take a break from my desk, I'd walk the sales floor and watch all those people browsing, searching for something they didn't know existed. At the time, there were rumblings in the industry about electronic books, but few seemed to think they would take hold. And they didn't. Not then, anyway. But what was happening was that the music sections were diminishing and then those eclectic book titles had to be special ordered. Yes, the corporate office made a lot of missteps, as so many of us witnessed at the store level, but we were forced to ride the wave until it was our department that was cut.

In 2005, it was the end of my career with the bookstore. I missed the days of being able to see what new titles were being shelved and recommending books to customers wanting something to read, but not sure what -- then those same customers returning because they appreciated the previous suggestion. Sure, Amazon has the "If you liked this, you'll like this" on their site, but Amazon doesn't know that perhaps the prior purchase had been a gift and nothing one would read themselves. In other words, there is no way to discuss just what one is in the mood for and the capability to browse, leaf through and make a decision after acquainting oneself with the book. However, with the announcement of more bookstores closing almost on a daily basis, it doesn't matter because that time seems to have reached its conclusion and both stores I helped open are part of the group to be closed.

One thing is certain though, we writers will still write and musicians will still perform, but will we be like that tree that falls in the forest when no one is around? In other words, I wonder who will champion these books?