Demise of Borders brings just what Las Vegas needs: More empty big-box spaces

Carlos Osorio/AP Photo

Customers walk into a Borders Books & Music store, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Borders Group filed for bankruptcy Monday, July 18, 2011, after seeking court approval to liquidate its 399 stores when the company failed to receive any bids that would keep the 40-year-old chain in operation.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

The news that Borders Books will liquidate doesn’t just bring the loss of four big bookstores in the valley, public spaces where people could browse, relax and maybe even socialize with a neighbor.

The demise of Borders also indicates the flagging fortunes of the suburban big-box store model of development. In Henderson, the closed Borders will be just down Stephanie Street from the old Circuit City, which went through its own liquidation in early 2009. Despite prime retail space in an affluent area, the old Circuit City space remains unfilled, and I’d bet the Borders spot will be similarly vacant for a long time.

The coming problems with suburban big-box development are threefold, and they are worse in Las Vegas than almost anywhere else.

1) Young people want to live in an urban environment, not the big-box suburbs where they grew up. As I reported earlier this year, more than 80 percent of Americans born between the mid-1970s and 2000 would choose to live in an urban area, or a suburban area that qualified as “urban lite,” such as Arlington, Va., or Bethesda, Md, according to a consultant with the real estate firm RCLCO. (Arlington and Bethesda are suburbs that feature walkability and easy access to urban amenities.)

2) The days of mass affluence — when people went to the big-box stores and spent a little of their home equity or savings or whatever — appear to be finished. Americans, if they have a job at all, are de-leveraging — paying down debt. And who can blame them?

As an Advertising Age columnist alerted readers recently, the only people with real money to spend are the super rich. Only those who made $100,000 or more last year spent more than in the prior year. And that’s not the big-box store model.

3) Increasing use of the Internet to buy everything from books to electronics to apparel continues apace, eating into big-box store revenues.

This is a serious problem for Las Vegas because, all we did was build big-box retail and suburban living and office space, even as the country began moving back toward urbanism in the 1990s. We were building the wrong product.

Similarly, The Wall Street Journal reported recently that big city downtown office towers are bouncing back strongly while suburban office parks are being left behind. What did we spend 20 years building? A bunch of suburban office parks. Our office vacancy rate is currently more than 20 percent.

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  1. These spaces will sit empty for a long, long time - UNLESS - someone starts applying some creative thinking RIGHT NOW. Unfortunately, the big banks and corporate interests that own these buildings aren't exactly known for their creative thinking.

    They should gut these buildings and repurpose them as incubators, mini office parks, creative hubs, etc. It will take out of the box thinking to fill the box. I have little hope this will happen but it COULD happen. Another problem is that some of these buildings sit empty because their owners WANT them to sit empty. They can enjoy significant tax benefits by writing down the value of these buildings. Why else would their owners be asking for the same rents they got in 2007 at the height of the boom?

  2. The majority of the population can't identify with a big-box monolith anymore. We want more value for our money and a business that cares about who we are as customers. Borders never got to know me or my community, so why should the community care for them. The jobs will come and go, but perhaps if they offered more than they took they wouldn't be going out of business. Going along with the rhythm devoid of personality and taking peoples money, with no grand experience, product or service in return is not how a business is going to survive in this new economy. The library managed to offer a better experience than Borders and not because it was free, but because it kept up with the changing technology.

  3. Here in Bakersfield, an old Home base store (like Home Depot) is still vacant after close to 10 years. (It was a furniture outlet for a year or so about 5 years back). The nearby vacated Costco and Home Depot stores are also vacant. (both moved to new bigger locations nearby). The nearby closed Office Depot was made into a traffic court building (plenty of business there). The other Home Base building (also closed a decade ago) was an indor RV showroom for a bit, until RV sales tanked. They just tore it down to build a used car dealership. The closed Circuit City, 2 Mervyns, 2 Gottschalks, Comp USA and Target, Borders, etc. around town are all still vacant, along with a few former grocery stores and car dealerships. A lot of smaller retail lease space is also vacant. Montgomery Wards is now an indoor swap meet.
    The old Zodys sat for decades before A Home Depot opened there. There's enough empty big boxes to last a long time. Of course, if something new comes to town, they'll build new....Someday they'll learn...

  4. Chunky says:

    The Vegas suburbs definitely lack a sense of local neighborhood / community, but frankly the town was not built on that philosophy from the beginning. It has been a town built on coming here for a growth period, make your mark or money and move on. Whether it was the dam, the original casino days, the mega-casino growth period or the housing boom, it always has been built for growth.

    However, people do build lives, families and careers here. The problem is that building local neighborhoods and community takes time, effort and a certain mindset amongst the residents and community leaders. Chunky doesn't get a sense that too many people are selfless enough to invest in the relationships that make up that lifestyle. In a town full of overbearing HOAs who depersonalize the neighborhoods, no wonder the next-gens want to escape and find a place where they are not forced into a cookie cutter home, yard and paint color.

    It's not just about what we build and where we built it, it's about the people behind it as well.

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  5. The demise of the bookstores...

    Has as much to do with this machine I'm typing on as anything else.
    Amazon, Kindle, Tablets and the like are taking a huge CHUNK out of the market.

    The time has come where you don't need to ever leave your home to survive. Work, shop, play. It's all just a click away!!!

    Pretty soon, we'll have to find ways to force some people to leave their homes to socialize.
    There are already legions of "Internet Hermits."

  6. I blame myself and gmag39 for Borders demise. To me, the death of this store has nothing to do with "next-gens" or any other sappy euphemism for a human in our society.

    I blame it on technology. I have been puchasing and reading books published in an electronic format since 1999 when I owned a Palm Pilot with 128mb capacity. I purchased books on-line from Peanut Press....currently I own a tablet with 32gb capacity loaded with Kindle, Borders, ereader, Sony reader, Nook and Kobo apps that I read with. Not to mention dedicated PDF readers.

    I like the portability of the electronic form factor as well as readability. I am in common parlance, a book "junkie". I love to read.

    I agree somewhat with the demise of big box stores being a matter of over-growth but it is hard to argue that a mega shopping center loaded with varieties is a shoppers nirvana.

    So the hipsters, hucksters and phonies can't park their fixies while pretending to be urban surrealists..... so what.

  7. Borders did themselves in. Most everything in their store and on their site was sold at list price. Why should I go to Borders and pay list price when I can get it cheaper at Amazon or maybe even B&N? Their refusal to offer sales and good values led them to the position they are in now. I'm curious to see exactly what their "liquidation sales" will offer.

  8. "the only people with real money to spend are the super rich. Only those who made $100,000 or more last year spent more than in the prior year."

    Are you suggesting that households that earned $100k are "super rich"? Wow. I mean, w-o-w.

    Aside from that odd sense of income reality, as someone who grew up in bookstores and libraries, it is "sad" (more for nostalgia's sake than anything) that bookstores are disappearing.

    But when you can send one iPad loaded with 500 books to a 3rd world reading program for the same cost as sending 50 printed books, I think the writing is on the wall -- especially when the biggest benefactors of those reading programs are already moving that direction. Education makes up the vast bulk of printed book buying, and with the so-called "greening" of campuses worldwide, publishers are losing more and more of the largest buyers of printed books each semester. So, in essence, one can blame the "green movement" for at least part of this. It is, however, the simple march of technology.

    If there is anything one can learn in Las Vegas (and there is plenty), it is adapt or die. Those who saw the eventual demise of the suburbs coming already made their move to the center of town; at some point in the future, the urban areas will plateau and there will be new models of city living devised.

    Change is the only constant, especially here. Acknowledge, move on. Or, waste time wringing your hands.

  9. It is hard to feel any sense of nostalgia for an anitseptic box selling books for far more than its competitors.

    I guess will could bulldoze all the strip shopping centers and they can revert to desert.

  10. Why is Las Vegas always playing "catch up"? It seems to me that all the people making the management decisions for the city are incompetent. The casino industry has tried to lead the way but because of greed and infighting they have failed. Our city is disjointed, disorganized, and disconnected from it's citizens. What do our leaders think the answer is? Simple... add a few ferris wheels. What the deuce man?

  11. Remenber when Borders and B&N came to town, All of the articles on the subject, around the country predicted (correctly) the demise of the smaller, local (real) bookstores, where the store owner was likely to ring up your sale, and could order whatever you wanted, and have it in a day or 2, if it wasn't in stock. Same thing happened with local toy and hobby stores, also appliance stores when the large stores came to town.
    Service used to matter, now it's "I can get it at big box for a little less", with most folks not wanting the "cheapest" (now made in China) whatever.

  12. Couple people have misread this paragraph:

    As an Advertising Age columnist alerted readers recently, the only people with real money to spend are the super rich. Only those who made $100,000 or more last year spent more than in the prior year.

    These are two separate facts. I never claimed 100k equaled "super rich."

  13. Mr. Coolican:

    The statement by Advertising Age is subjective, not factual. I realize you placed a link to the AA story within the sentence, but not everyone has the time to meta-read.

    For my money, that paragraph remains confusing, and still implies that $100k is super rich. Rather than tell us what you didn't mean, why not simply clarify the intent of the paragraph, for the readers' sake?

    More than anything, technology killed Borders, not poor city planning. Big box stores can pose challenges for any city; "Las Vegas" isn't the reason every time a "problem" is uncovered, and socio-economic engineering via government (in this case, zoning) isn't always the solution.

    Respectfully,
    JPR

  14. $100k a year might not be "super" rich, but most of us making half of that would like to give it a try. Until the economy turns, $40-$60k is a very decent living for most of us. An extra 50k (30 after taxes) would go a long way. In 2005, when the building boom was going on, a lot of us in that industry were making 80 with overtime and bonuses. The bonuses went in 2006, the overtime went in 2007, the job went in 2008. But I'm surviving, thanks to prudent (cheap) lifestyle when times were good.