July 01, 2007

Origin of the Bookstore, Part the Ninth - Sidelines

For the next four months we'll be doing a special feature each month in honor of Borderlands' upcoming 10th Anniversary (November 3rd, 2007). We'll share some stories about what Borderlands is and how it got that way.

by Jude Feldman

"How hard can it be to find a stupid bike messenger bag?!"  I threw up my hands in frustration.  I'd been looking for days; sending out email queries, flipping through catalogs, staring at low-resolution pictures on-line until my eyes stung and my contact lenses felt glued in place.  I felt like the Goldilocks of bike-messenger-bag seekers, except that there was no sign of the "Just Right" one yet, and there seemed to be about 48,000 bears' beds to choose from.  This bag was too large, and that one too small.  This one was made of cheap nylon and looked flimsy, that one appeared to be made of Kevlar and, if the cost was any indication, it darn well better have stopped bullets, too.  That type would be great, except it only came in an eye-offending orange or Army green, and all 53 of those looked too much like computer bags.  And I still had to find pens, and pint glasses, and coffee mugs and stickers.

Welcome to the wonderful world of sidelines.  What's a sideline, anyway?  Other than someplace in sports where you sit when you're not in the game?  A sideline, in retail-speak, is a line of products that you sell in your store that is outside your main purview.  So Borderlands carries a handful of sidelines; essentially everything in the store that isn't a book.

So that covers greeting cards and Ripley postcards, our cool wooden boxes, all the dragon and skull tchotchke, blank books, jewelry, art prints, sculptures and our Borderlands branded gak.  Before starting my career in retail lo these many years ago, it never occurred to me to wonder where stores bought their stuff.   I never would have suspected that there were such things as "Gift Fairs," or that they could possibly fill the whole of Moscone Center.  (Google "San Francisco International Gift Fair" if you're interested.)  I just knew that Alan wanted the sideline items that Borderlands carries to fit with the feel and personality of the store.  Some of those items were no-brainers.  Cary and I both have a weakness for beautiful boxes, so those were easy, and we ended up with Ripley postcards by customer request.  Most of the other stuff we'd seen and admired elsewhere, and it fit right in to the store.

But the bike messenger bags were another matter entirely.  Many businesses have tote bags with their logos on them, but Borderlands needed something a little more practical, and, frankly, a little classier.  Which brings me back to the brain-numbing stupidity of trying to find the perfect messenger bag.  For days.

Pardon me while I digress -- I hate shopping!  I suppose that seems both amusing and disingenuous coming from a professional book buyer, but shopping and book buying aren't the same thing at all.

Shopping is when you wander around all slack-jawed and "Night Of The Living Dead-ish".  Shopping is like the adult version of writing standards on a blackboard.  Shopping, to me, is just very slightly more appealing that non-elective surgery.  Bleah.  My friend Jim calls that zombie/shopping state "wandering in the mall".  And as much as I wanted the store to have great bike messenger bags, the process of finding them was rapidly exceeding my shopping tolerance.

I finally found those perfect bike messenger bags, six days into the process.  I had done almost nothing for that entire period except review messenger bag options.  Now, please understand that this is not a bid for pity.  I am fully aware that while I was spending all that time looking for messenger bags, there were literally millions of people in the world doing good and important and life-saving work that actually matters, and this doesn't matter at all.  It is, however, just how the story goes.

And this is where the story ends.  I'm not going to talk about trying to match the "official" Borderlands' shade of red on products from three different vendors (glasses, mugs and pens).  And I'm not even going to _think_ about baseball hats.  I'll give you one hint about how that worked out -- have you ever seen a Borderlands' baseball cap?

And you won't either.

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