In May 2009, I wrote a blog arguing that bookshops like Borders should charge people a $2 admission fee to recoup some money from the hordes who come to browse and read for free and in air-conditioned comfort.
That generated comments from one camp which supported what I proposed and the other which threw the book at my audacity to raise such a scenario.
The detractors in this group said it was against the time-honoured spirit of browsing in a bookshop and that the pursuit of knowledge should not carry a price.
Others argued that charging a fee would drive away a lot of customers - but I wondered then, did the bulk of people raiding the shelves for free reads actually went on to buy something?
My take then - and still – is that one should play fair and support a beloved merchant you grew up with.
If you do not want to buy anything, at least help pay for the upkeep of the place, including the cost of maintaining the merchandise.
In my earlier blog, I also said that the $2 fee should be refunded with any purchase.
Reading the reports of Borders’ current difficulties, a comment from a patron caught my eye – he said that the store in Wheelock Place appealed to him because there were so many books and magazines to read.
Yes, for free.
Do you know another business which is as generous with its offerings for public consumption?
Can you imagine, for example, a restaurant letting you sample almost everything on its menu – as much as you like – before you decide whether you want to eat there?
I have always thought that Borders’ business model was hard to sustain when it also had to cope with high rents and staff salaries.
I am at its other branch in Parkway Parade almost every week. Just like its Orchard store, this is always crowded but sadly the folks are often not thick at one spot – the cashier’s.
Instead, they are plonked on benches and comfy armchairs, sometimes with a bunch of books to tank up on their weekly reading needs.
I have even seen some people engrossed in reading thick paperbacks. Maybe they come back another time or two to read the remainder of the book.
The point is - Borders is like a feel-good community library in a shopping mall and almost everyone’s having a whopper of a time partaking of the freebies.
But good times cannot last if no one’s helping pay for the fun.
So we have only one Borders branch still left standing - and last weekend the crowds were still doing best what they have done for a long, long while - reading for free.
But for how long? Do they care?
Could they see some merit in paying an admission fee?
It might still not be too late to save the store.