Liquidation

I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to work yesterday or not. In fact, until I actually walked in the front door, I hadn’t committed myself either way. As I walked to the store from Franklin Square, I eyed the L2 waiting to start its route and thought quite seriously about jumping onto the bus and riding it all the way home. In the end, I didn’t. I went to work, as I was scheduled to do so, and as I’d committed myself when I’d turned in my notice.

That wasn’t easy. And not just because of the emotional impact of turning in my notice. Like, literally, management was refusing to take it on Thursday night, my first shift since the closing was announced. My GM called me into his office and we spoke for about twenty minutes. We laughed a bit, mostly at customer expense. We talked about what liquidation meant for the store. And when the topic came to my departure, the talk took a serious, and literally threatening tone.

Borders is apparently threatening to blackball all employees at closing stores who end their employment before liquidation is complete. In other words, if you want a shot at employment at another Borders, you’ve gotta stay to the bitter end — not just the last day the store is open to customers, but the days afterward, too, when remaining books are packaged up, fixtures are loaded onto trucks, until all that remains is the tattered bones of a once wonderful bookstore. In addition, Borders is apparently threatening not
to provide references to those employees leaving early.

I gotta admit – I was kind of aghast when I heard this. What does Borders gain by such threats? Almost more to the point, what do people gain responding to such threats? Frankly, there are so few Borders left in Metro range, there are a lot of employees who are (figuratively) up shit’s creek without any paddle.

I promised to consider the matter over my shift, but at the end, I decided my original decision was correct and turned the notice in.

Thursday night was dead slow. I’ve rarely seen the store so empty. I guess everyone either thought we were closed, or decided there was no point buying something that night when liquidation sales would start up in a few days. Where Thursday was slow, Sunday was packed busy, like Christmas time or something. Huge crowds. Long lines. The entire store, a mess. Piles of books on tables, shelves, and scattered over the floor. A customer accidentally knocked over half a shelf of books. She started to pick them up, I interrupted her, “No, don’t worry, it’s okay.”

Today was busy, but kind of fun. Apparently payroll is no longer a consideration, so we had lots of staff. Part of me wants to point out to Borders’ upper management that if they hadn’t restricted payroll so much when the store was open and not facing bankruptcy, that we could’ve provided really great service on the floor and short waits at the registers and might’ve convinced more people to shop in our store than at, say, anywhere else. Oh well. I’m not thinking too much of what is laughingly called “executive management”, especially since the company’s newly promoted “Executive Vice President of Operations” said on a phone conference announcing store closures his belief that bankruptcy was not the result of poor decisions by said upper management, but on lack of effort from sales staff.

You know what, Mr. EVP of Operations? I’ve seen your LinkedIn profile. It’s a list of companies that have filed for bankruptcy and no longer exist. At some point, you need to stop blaming other people and accept responsibility for your own failures. Also at some point, you’d think someone would glance at your resume and decide that, if they want to keep their organization running, they’d probably better pass on hiring you.

In any case. Thursday night was the last night the cafe was open. Cafe staff now work our registers and on the floor. We blocked the cafe off, and with no cafe, we were able to padlock the restrooms. Apparently, not everyone got the message since someone broke into the men’s room. The restrooms were always a pain: from homeless folks bathing themselves in the sink, to potheads getting high and lighting them on fire, to thieves concealing merchandise and stealing our toilet paper, to crazies being, yanno, crazy, and punching other folks in the face.

So, in no particular order, here’s what I liked else best about today:

1. Not caring about customers. Okay, that’s not true. Not caring about whining customers. One of the things we’re required to do is remove the yellow sticker from the back of books and, with a marker, draw a line through the bar code. One gentleman became very upset when I told him I had to do this and threatened to walk away from a $300 order unless I abstained. I asked him if he was certain, he said he was. I promptly picked up his books, deposited them on the shelf behind me, told him to have a nice day, and called the next customer down. At some point, I guess he didn’t realize we weren’t particularly interested if he shopped here again or not.

2. The guy who complained about titles we were out of stock on and asked when we’d be getting new books in. Apparently he doesn’t understand what liquidation means?

3. Everyone who complained. About whatever. Music with dirty lyrics. No Wi-Fi. No cafe. No seating. Seriously, folks? I am more concerned with the gross domestic product of Micronesia than whatever it is you feel is so important you must bring it to my attention because apparently you’re far too stupid or classless to even show (or pretend to show) a figment of concern for all the folks losing their jobs.

4. All the customers who said that they were so sorry the store was closing, and especially the few who went further and expressed concern for the employees. There are quite a few customers I enjoy seeing and try to chat with. A lot of times, I don’t know their names. Frequently, I know what they’re reading. I’m hoping I’ll see them in the next week and a half or so before my employment ends.

But things are dismal. I think a lot of us are hiding our dismay in humor. A lot of folks — good folks, people who’d been with the company for decades — found out they’ll be getting no severance pay. At all. And while a few full-timers might find positions at “going forward” stores, a lot won’t.

I’m going to miss this place. A lot.

6 thoughts on “Liquidation

  1. I can’t imagine how upsetting it must be to see the store like that… I can’t even imagine it. But you’re right regarding customers who complain when you know that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter; that’s pretty much how I felt the last few weeks of my employment at every store I’ve worked for! Sort of a “shoulder shrug” mentality.

    Sending you good vibes and hope you emerge through this experience unscathed, but better — and ready for the next adventure.

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  3. “Borders is apparently threatening to provide references to those employees leaving early.”

    IS THIS CORRECT or do you mean NOT provide?

    Indigo books in canada doesn’t give ref letters.

  4. Hm, I’m not sure (you’d need to consult a lawyer) but I’m not sure they can refuse to give you a reference. They are required (I’m pretty sure) to give the standard “yes they worked here, these were the dates of employment, and no they weren’t fired for cause.) answer. Often that’s all you get anyway. Plus, since the store itself will be gone, all people can to do check your reference is contact the corporate office which won’t know more than that anyway. Aside from the whole working at another Borders thing, I wouldn’t worry about it. The B&N where I worked no longer exists either, and so it’s not a problem. If your individual boss is someone you would have asked to be a personal reference, and he’s now gotten all huffy and corporate on you, well he’s a jerk and that’s a shame but honestly a person lie that is as likely to give you a mediocre or bad reference as a good one. Sorry about your store! I hope your last weeks are actually somewhat fun if naturally bittersweet.

  5. Meg – I’ve got just over a week to go. Can’t wait.

    n – Good catch! Edited.

    Carin – Yeah, that may’ve been a threat from our GM and not from Borders. And honestly, trust me, no one there is concerned about not being reemployed by Borders.

  6. Everytime I read your posts, your tweets, your Facebook status…I get reminded of my own liquidation experience. Honestly, even thought it happened nine years ago, it still feels very recent.

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