Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On A Personal Note: Borders...

I went to Borders recently and well... The letter below can explain. I just sent this off to just about EVERY executive at Borders and we'll see what they have to say. (It's amazing what a little research on the web can get you) At first, I laughed the whole thing off, but as time went on, I realized just how much that comment bothered me. Again, it's that fun game I like to play where you replace Atheist with any other group of people and suddenly the dynamic shifts. Let's hope I get a reply. (I'm blocking out my contact info as I don't really want it posted on the internet):

Ray Harrington



Borders, Inc.

100 Phoenix Drive

Ann Arbor, MI 48108

To Whom It May Concern:

Recently while at your XXXXX, Maine store, I purchased two books. One of which was The Portable Atheist, a collection of Atheist writings over the last few centuries. As a very loyal and regular customer, (I shop at your store almost weekly and always make a purchase) I was shocked and offended when the woman ringing in my books commented on the book; “Atheism, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.” This was said with such arrogance and blatant mockery that I stumbled over my words as I paid for my books and left.

At first, I was surprised at what she had said, was that REALLY what just happened? As the days went on, I realized just how insensitive and downright offensive that statement was. In fact, some might construe that to be an affront to my religious beliefs and I am inclined to agree. If the woman had referred to a Bible or the Qur’an in this manner, I’m sure you would be hearing from a religious group on the matter as an attack of Civil Liberties. As it is, I have only one recourse, and that is to contact you personally. The matter has left me feeling so insulted that I must ask myself if I can feel confident in being a Border’s Books customer any longer.

To be honest, I don’t know what may reinstate my confidence in Borders. I only ask that you do as you see fit. This matter is gravely important to me and I will be very much interested in seeing it resolved. As a loyal customer, I hope I can retain a sense of dignity when shopping your stores. I look forward to your reply and a resolution to this problem, and will wait until June 9th to report this matter to a Consumer Protection Agency, The Better Business Bureau, and any other avenues that deal with these issues. Please contact me by e-mail, the above address, or by phone at XXXXXXXX.


Ray Harrington


Mike said...

I'm sure if you picked up some yahoo-christian book she would swooped you up into her arms and praised you being a "good" christian!

Good for you Ray!

I have been hit recently by the power of a letter. I recently wrote to all the major supermarkets in the area and asked them why they have not converted to a bagless campaign or offer a rewards program for customers who bring their own bags! Most grocery stores now are making a big push to "become bagless", offering rewards, or like my favorite Stop n' Shop & Whole Foods have made it publicly known they are going bagless Whole FoodsS & S (i cannot find the article about stop n shop - sorry possible inaccuracies). This was beginning of last year, i wrote these companies!

Second time... was the beginning of this year. I wrote my town about how to recycle in an apartment complex! Short story, my complex now is forced to recycle! They have even sent out flyers on how to recycle!

The power of a letter indeed!

Anonymous said...

Ray, I agree with you 100% and you have every right to be upset. Her reaction was inappropriate and it should be brought to Border's management's attention.

Their staff needs to know that they shouldn't pass judgement on anything bought by a customer. If they can't say anything positive they should keep quiet. Hence they need to train their employees to be more sensitive and use your story as an excellent example of what not to do.

You may not know but Borders is up for sale. They've had some weak management a few years back and they're struggling to survive. There are about 1200 people at their HQ in Ann Arbor, of which
156 of them were laid off on Tuesday morning. Another 125 or so were let go in the field. So, everyone at HQ is stressed out, over worked and trying to make it to the end of each day without going postal.

If you get a response back I'll be surprised but I hope you do. If not, just understand they've got priorities a little more important lately. I'd recommend youforward your note to the store manager so that they can educate their staff on how to deal with this type of situation.

This clerk can't be the first "insensitive" person you've dealt with over the years. Chalk it up to immaturity or whatever you want to call it. But do keep being a loyal customer and keep reading and supporting your local merchants.

Best of luck with your situation from a long time book rep.

Mike said...

If it was a library, nothing would have been said. You know because of the librarian code... NO CENSORSHIP WHAT-SO-EVER! I bet if your local library does not have this kind of material, if you ask they will get them. Or better yet, if you can part with the books after you are done reading/researching/etc., they would be very thankful for a donation!

You could even, possibly, do a small campaign to let others know that the local library now carries "alternatives to religion" type subject matter!

That may be interesting up in Maine!

Remember the power of a letter!

Arkonbey said...

That was truly terrible. Your letter was eloquent and concise.

My second thought is: you'd be better off supporting a local independent bookstore than a corporate behomoth. At the store I worked at, all the employees had a hand in recommending books for order, rather than a corporate list.

Plus most independent store employees work there for the love of books, not just to get a paycheck.

Ray said...

Arkonbey, I know what you mean. I remember a long time ago applying for a job at a big-box bookstore and in the interview I was told, "It's not about knowing what the books are like. It's about selling and moving product."

Thats when I realized I had never seen an employee smile there. I politely said thanks and never called back again.

Paul said...

I hate this kind of passive aggressive commentary. By saying, "I'll just keep my thoughts and comments to myself," one is not, in fact, keeping one's thoughts and comments to oneself. I would have called a manager on the spot. At least, I like to think I would have. I probably would have been so non-plussed I would have done just what you did: not realised I was upset until it was too late.

Rich Orman said...

Frankly, no self-respecting atheist should set foot in Borders anyway. Remember that they pulled magazines off their shelves that dared to publish the Danish cartoons of Mohammed a few years ago in a blatant kowtow to the forces of radical Islam and political correctness.

Anonymous said...

Good on you Ray for standing up for your rights. The persons response was passive/aggressive and she needs to be called on it.

I have been reluctant to shop at Borders for a while because, here in Australia at least, the coffee shops in Borders are Gloria Jeans. Gloria Jeans has ties to Hillsong Church and Mercy Ministries.

There has been allegations made against Mercy that treatments for women with eating disorders etc, have included exorcisms and prayer readings (rather than professional psychiatric help they were supposed to be getting). Mercy is also on record for their anti-abortion and anti-gay stance.

C. E. Durant said...

Ray, I too (as a literary man) am a frequent shopper at Borders. In fact, I just yesterday bought a Jean Rhys book from Borders Books. Not only that, applied to their store to work. I'm appalled and disgusted. I will not shop at Border's.

Ray said...

rich, while I can understand your point, I think its important to remember the ridiculous hype and unnecessary fear that the whole episode caused. Most media outlets refused to print them in their stories on the issue, something I have a problem with. If the entire media collectively took a stand and said, "we're printing it. you can't threaten us all." The whole fiasco would have been irrelevent and the 'news' media might have taken a step in the right direction toward being a respected venue.

Paul, I agree. I can remember working in retail for quite some time and its a basic principle of commerce NOT to impose these sort of personal judgements. Not only is it archaic and ignorant, its plain old Bad Business.

Ozatheist, Thanks for the info on Gloria Jeans. I never knew! Now that I do, I think I might steer clear of them. Any other information you have, let me know. I would love to share it here. You can reach me at

I appreciate your empathy on this, but PLEASE don't stop shopping at Borders. Its important to remember that this was a case of one employee stepping out of that role. Borders Books has never shown themselves to support or allow that kind of behavior. We need to work WITH people in these situations. But I can certainly understand your viewpoint! When all is said and done, we need people like you THERE and a customer willing to stand up. After all, who else but we few are going to buy Hitchens and sip chai?