Mountain bookstores feel pressure of Borders
On a recent weekday afternoon, nearly three dozen people browsed the 15-foot-high bookshelves at Borders bookstore in Dillon.
Patrons occupied the half-dozen black leather chairs scattered around the room, flipping through coffee table books or intently reading best sellers. A couple played a lazy game of Scrabble while sipping lattés and a customer surfed the Web on the café’s wireless Internet service.
Since opening 16 months ago, Borders’ business seems to be booming. Sales are expected to meet or exceed projections this year, according to Tim Anderson, Borders district manager.
He declined to give sales figures but said the Dillon store’s success prompted the company to venture into other tourist communities around the country. “We’re very happy with how the store is doing and the financial results there,” Anderson said.
Borders general manager Samantha Mamula, a Summit County native, said the Dillon store enjoys a steady local business. She estimated 75 percent of customers were tourists during spring break in March, but did not expect business to slow to a crawl during the impending mud season.
“We see the same people year round,” Mamula said. “Some of the same people come into the store every day.”
It was not Summit County’s first big-chain retailer, but in 2000, when town officials first considered its approval, independent book sellers vociferously protested the competition, citing the possible elimination of independent businesses and homogenization.
Jolanta Weber, who with her husband Charles has owned Breckenridge’s Weber’s Books & Drawings for 18 years, opposed Borders’ arrival. In 2000, she gathered more than 600 signatures from people opposing the store.
The development was approved, but citing high construction costs, the company put the project on hold for two years and came back to the town with a scaled-down proposal in 2002, when it was approved again. Borders opened in November 2002.
Independent bookstore retailers do not singularly blame recent declines in sales on Borders. As an example, store owners said they work with Borders’ staff when patrons ask for an unusual item.
“There have been better years, but we were feeling the competition of the Internet before Borders opened,” Weber said.
Cary Hardin opened her independent bookstore, Hamlet’s, just four months before Borders. She credits her location in a charming, historic home on Main Street in Breckenridge with drawing in customers.
“Ever since I was a child I’ve always been fascinated with cozy bookstores,” Hardin said. “Our tourists are from big cities, where they see enough of Borders where they’re from. Here, they’re looking for a quaint atmosphere when they visit.”
Hardin acknowledges that Borders impacts her business, but said she realizes competition is not something she can prevent.
“I don’t have the marketing budget they do,” she said. “But I have the drive and I love books. It forces me to stay on my toes.”
Maureen Keefe, owner of Winds of Change Books and Gifts in Frisco, said sales were down the last two years by 20 percent. She lists Borders’ opening as one of many reasons for declining sales.
“Business has been affected by 9/11, fires, drought, war, Borders; they’re all natural disasters,” she said.
Keefe thinks Summit County can’t support three independent bookstores and Borders.
“Originally I was resentful (of Borders opening),” Keefe said. “Why did they have to come in and infiltrate our market? We had a community that was unique and diverse but then the big boxes started coming in and turned us into little Denver.”