Borders and Bookstores

With the news that Borders filed for bankruptcy, I started thinking about the Borders that I went to when I was younger, back when a giant huge bookstore was a luxury I’d never experienced. There were fireplaces! And big huge chairs! And more books than I’d ever seen in my life, and the employees were friendly as opposed to condescending like the people in the local bookstore near my house who never had any good chapter books for kids.

Colleen Lindsay was saying that if the local Borders near her brother’s home closes, there won’t be a bookstore for 35 miles. As part of their bankruptcy, Borders will likely close 200 stores, which means a lot of people will lose their bookstore.

UPDATE: This is a link to a PDF of all the Borders stores scheduled to close.

Meanwhile, last Sunday, my husband wanted to take our younger son to the library, only to find that due to budget cuts it was closed – despite the website listing it as open that day. So, since my younger son is 3 and he wanted BOOKS PLEASE DADDY, they went to Barnes and Noble. It was a horrible shopping trip because the books were a marginal focus, since the minute you step in the door it was TOYS TOYS TOYS. Hubby said he wouldn’t take the kids back there again because it was so unpleasant, and books were not the focus. Toys and games and gifts were.

The floorplan of big bookstores is changing to include things other than books. Yesterday, at Tools of Change (larger entry about the conference coming, yes, with drinking game since I’m sure many people need it), the Indie bookseller panel was asked about what will happen when Borders goes bankrupt or closes some if not all of their stores.

Their answer was, it will leave a hole, and a smart bookseller can help fill it, through doing what those indie booksellers already do: building communities locally and online, and offering something unique that’s more than just selling books. Now, these indies, Greenlight Books and WORDBrooklyn, are among my favorites because they are familiar and curious about romance fiction (as opposed to some Indie folks who look at the genre and at romance readers as if we carry some papercut-inducing disease, as I’ve heard from some readers).

But there is room for the hole left by Borders to be filled, as they put it.

So let me ask you, as a reader: where is your nearest bookstore? Do you shop there? Do you have a Borders near you, and do you shop there? If your store closes, does it affect you? And what could a physical bookstore do to lure you as a customer now?

And to Borders employees who face job loss: I’m so sorry this is happening.

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  1. 1
    Sharon says:

    The big Borders in SOMA closed last year (and I think one of those godawful Academy of Art thingies is taking over the space, God help us all…), so I now walk to the one in Union Square (refuse to set foot in that mall place on Market St.—if I wanted to shop in malls, I’d live in the ‘burbs). Same difference walking-wise, although I don’t like the touristy sidewalk traffic around Union Square. San Francisco has plenty of smaller bookstores, although they all seem to focus on uber-liberal political stuff, art/design books and/or noir-homage novels. There’s a mystery bookstore in Noe Valley, and another in San Mateo. There’s a big B&N in North Beach, but the manager is a creepy, creepy guy and latches on to any remotely attractive female who walks in and won’t leave them alone, so I avoid it like the plague. Library system is good—main library is open 7 days a week, although local branch hours differ and some are so small they’re really just free internet access and bathroom access for the homeless people (which means you really don’t want to go inside and sit on anything or touch anything anyway).

    Interestingly enough, while brick-and-mortar shops seem to be on the decline, I find myself downloading fewer and fewer books to my Kindle. I have fallen decidedly out of love with my Kindle and reserve it for flying these days.

    So, as much as I loathe Amazon, looks like they win…~sigh~

  2. 2
    AngP says:

    The closest Borders to me is in a very large shopping center.  If it closes, there are at least three locally owned stores and one chain off-shoot.  I can’t foresee the corporation closing one with such a large retail space footprint that’s always packed no matter the hour.  The one up the freeway, about 15 miles north, is much smaller and is sadly the only bookstore I know of that serves that town.  The only other places to buy books would be Walmart or Target if that Borders closes.  The local library is tiny.  People from that town would either have to drive south in extremely heavy traffic to the big Borders or 20 miles north in moderately heavy traffic to the nearest B&N.  Or just order from Amazon.

  3. 3
    Corina says:

    I live in a very small mountain town that, luckily, does have a bookstore. But, like the town, it’s small. It’s also a drugstore and a gift shop and they don’t have any romance section at all. The nearest Borders is about 100 miles away, and I used to go there every time I went to the “big city” but a few years ago it gave up its freestanding location and moved into the mall and I HATE the mall, and I hate the mall parking lot even more, so I switched my loyalty to B&N which still has a stand-alone building and an easy to enter/exit parking lot. But in all the ways you’ve pointed out, B&N is really just not that much about books anymore. What lures me into a bookstore is a large selection and comfortable places to sit and browse the books I’m considering. My disposable income is limited, so I want a chance to read a chapter or two before I commit to buying a book. Going to a bookstore is a treat for me, a luxury in both time and money and I like it to feel that way.

  4. 4
    Sharon says:

    Oh…what can a bookstore do to lure me in going forward? Sell books, damn it. Enough with the coffee and comfy chairs and toys and racks and racks of journals and calendars and gifty crap. Enough with the Silly Bandz and stuffed animals and junk. You’re a bookseller? Sell books. If you have FOUR floors in a prime location and I STILL have to order a current release from you and wait for it to come into the store, you’re stocking the wrong stuff, ya know? And why would I walk to the store and order through you when I can order from home via Amazon and for cheaper?

    Sell books. Stop being pretentious. Stop following trends. If books are on a bestseller list, there’s a reason—they’re selling faster than the other stuff. Would make good sense to stock it, eh?  If you’d rather use your floor space to push your big social/political agenda, fine, but don’t complain when you go out of business.

  5. 5
    Melissa says:

    I admit I do some of my book shopping online, although, as I’m a librarian, my bookshopping has gone waaaaay down.  I also read a fair amount of fanfic, which is free online.  o/.  Anyway, I have an almost ideal situation as far as bookstores are concerned, which I do take advantage of.  I’m a BIG SF/F reader, and I live almost equidistant between Uncle Hugos and Dreamhaven, two fabulous specialty (you guessed it) SF/F bookstores, both practically within walking distance. 

    Frankly, they don’t have to do much to lure me in.  It’s great having stores near me who almost certainly have whatever I want in stock, no matter how obscure, between their new and the used inventory.  It’s an amazing convenience and privilege, and one of the real benefits of where I live.  And there’s nothing like walking into an entire store filled with what I like to read.  And having two of them.  Close.  Can you say dangerous?

  6. 6
    JenD says:

    What a great question. I’ve never really thought about it, oddly enough. (Long post ahoy! Might want some coffee for this.)

    We have an indi bookstore that’s well-known here in town. I don’t like going there- it’s cramped, the staff are nice enough but aloof, the selection is tiny and there’s no parking. I get no added value for shopping there- just parking hassles and slightly more expensive pricing.

    One thing I think that local booksellers could do better would be to incorporate technology.

    Placing a computer somewhere is a good start- but what of the browsing? Creating a kiosk that had an employee’s choice list (graphic rep of the book would be best). Take a SmartBoard and use that- something to connect the ebook choice in with the paper books.
    Even a sticker on the back of the book to identify that the ebook version is available at the counter.

    Beyond ebooks- why not integrate online streams like Ustream to have book discussions, signings, speakers etc and grow the brand?

    Have an online book club that connects directly for your customers. Order this book- free book discussion in two weeks on MyBookStoreReadingGroup.com. Save time- print it right on the receipt so they have a reminder- or even integrate the mailing list (email) and send them an invite. 

    Even small things can add up. Offer free desktop wallpaper on your store’s website. Keep the brand in front of your customers. Go crazy and make a free ‘app’ that puts pictures of their family and friends in a cooky book-related situation. (Helloooo clutch covers!) AND use that app as a promo for an author’s latest book. Imagine it- new romance novel is coming out in two weeks- so put you and your SO’s pic in place of the couple on the cover. Make it fun and they will remember it. Offer a pre-order screen at the end of the app; cash in on the exposure without being obnoxious.

    Offer free ‘Author Chats’ online- we do it here on SBTB so why not use that model as a value-add for a brick n mortar store? I’d LOVE to be able to chat with an author instead of sit in a room with a hundred other people, drive through traffic, find a sitter, figure out when dinner will have to be, and clear out a big chunk of time. Instead- I sit home, everyone eats and I am free to participate as I am able. To help the ‘after talk’ sales- roll a banner of related books that with one click are added to a shopping cart without disrupting the flow of the online chat.

    Basically- give some value-added goodies to show that your customers *should* be coming to you beyond the vague ‘we’re local so pick us’.

  7. 7
    Nadia says:

    The nearest bookstore is a Half-Price Books, just around the corner.  While I Iurve a good book at half-price, you can’t count on their selection from day-to-day since it depends on what people sell them.  For new books, it’s Target or Amazon for me, really.  The nearest Borders is a half hour (minimum) away through the worst traffic in town.  The nearest Barnes and Noble isn’t a whole lot better.  There is a ginormous B&N with a rockin’ romance section that’s isn’t close enough to just drop in, but it’s near other shopping that I like so it’s a day-of-shopping destination.

    Really, all I ask of a bookstore is to have a good selection, and that means not just the top new releases but less prominent authors and backlists.

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    Sell books.

    Interestingly, one of the ideas from the panel on bookselling in the 21st century was suggested by the gentleman from BookTour, who challenged booksellers to identify what it is that they do in addition to selling books. What makes you special, ASIDE from “You sell books.” His point was, so do a lot of huge retailers (i.e. Amazon) and they sell a ton of other stuff too. Do you want to compete by selling a lot of other stuff, too? Then you’re not just a bookseller.

    What makes your bookstore, your staff, your location, your community special? What do you offer that no one else does?

    I really, REALLY do not want “a lot more toys than books” to be the answer.

  9. 9
    liz talley says:

    We had a Borders outlet that went in to an open mall (boardwalk) in our area, but it closed soon afterwards. I loved it because all the books were discounted.

    The closest we have is Barnes and Noble and it still does a good business. Had a booksigning there on Saturday and things were hopping pre-Valentines which made me happy.

    The closest bookstore to me is an independent bookseller and they carry very little romance – a few Nora Roberts and Sophie Kinsella books. They are so very, very unfriendly that I rarely venture in. I want to like them because they are a small business and, heck, they sell BOOKS, but I just don’t.

    I’ve been puchasing more on my kindle, but I think I’d be more apt to buy at brick and mortars if there were experienced salespersons to answer questions and make recommendations.

  10. 10
    Alex says:

    They closed their UK stores a while ago and as there was one less than a mile from my workplace, I miss it horribly.  It was about the only chain bookshop that had a decent romance selection.  I did begrudge having to pay £8.99 for paperbacks with US $6.99 price stickers on them, but at least it gave you the chance to browse and see if you liked the book before buying.

    We have WH Smiths and Waterstones as the main two chain bookshops here but you’re extremely lucky if you can find anything by authors other than Nora Roberts (who I like) and Stephanie Laurens (who I don’t) in there.  The libraries and supermarkets seem to almost exclusively stock crappy historicals and the really atrocious “Sheik’s Gypsy Pregnant Secret Bride” style of Mills & Boon books.  I mainly pick them up from charity shops (not easy for contemporaries) or buy things from Amazon marketplace sellers and take the gamble that I’ll like the book.  Thank god for sites like this or I’d waste a lot more money than I do now!

  11. 11
    Christina says:

    My closest bookstore actually is a Borders – the one in downtown Silver Spring, MD – about a 10 minute walk from my home. The next closest after that would be Kramer Books and Afterwords in DuPont Circle (a half hour bus ride) (the economy has not been kind to bookstores in the metro DC area). I’m sad to say I don’t often shop at bookstores. I’m broke right now and relying heavily on PaperbackSwap and Amazon (my partner has a prime membership because she’s a student). I’d really like to have a local store to support, but high rents and low demands have really driven a lot of independent sellers out of the area.

  12. 12
    TracyS says:

    I live in rural Wisconsin, so my closest Barnes and Noble is 30 minutes away and the closest Borders is 40 minutes away.

    I do go to both of them on occasion, but I’m more likely to pick up books at Wal-Mart or Target as they are only 15 minutes away and one of those will usually carry the books I am looking for. If they don’t, I’ll make the trip to B&N or Borders.  Living in a rural area, I’m used to driving to get to things :)

    Honestly, I wish I had more indie bookstores nearby. There was a great used bookstore that specialized in romances that I LOVED, but went out of business a year ago.

  13. 13
    Samantha Lee says:

    My nearest Borders closed down a year ago i used to love going there to buy my books and a starbucks coffee. There are 2 other bookshops near to where i live,WHSmith and The Works.

    WHSmith has far too small a selection of books and i find it hard to find any new releases from the genre i enjoy and The Works sells dicounted books but mainly toys, arts and cradts
    I have found myself buying more and more with the Book Depository and Amazon plus kindle books for my phone when i desperatley need to read the next new book in a series i love.
    My local library is great and my children love it but again i find it difficult to find anything that i enjoy or up to date.

  14. 14
    Trina says:

    There are Borders everywhere out here (NoCal) Back in the day (2006 ish) every Thursday and Friday night, I would go to EVERY book store in the area on massive book hunts. Where I’m sitting right now, there is a book store about 5 miles from here. I always liked Borders more than B&N. But then I bought so many books that it was hard for me to find new books in a physical store. I would go on Amazon, right down some recommendations and then go to the book store. But then the county sales tax went up to 9.75%. And Borders does not discount hardback books. So that’s when I found myself on Amazon. I almost never go to bookstores anymore. I buy mostly from Amazon and Better World.

    I do miss the smell of bookstores. But when I buy new books,  I fan the pages in my front of my face so I can still get a sniff of those freshly printed pages…oh, am I the only person who does that?

  15. 15

    My nearest bookstore is at the Mall. We don’t have Borders in Canada. By big chain bookstore is Chapters. I do shop there, but I often use their online service as well. The prices on hardcovers are much lower online. But your basic mass market paperback is the same price in store or online, so I buy those in store. They do have toys and gifts and journals, etc., but the main focus is still books, thank goodness.

  16. 16

    I live a bit north of San Francisco where traffic north and south is usually pretty awful. It’s a tremendous disincentive to travel outside my community.  The nearest Waldenbooks closed a couple of years ago, and there’s a Borders and a B&N north of me—through horrendous traffic. I never go there.  Luckily, my town has an outstanding independent bookstore. They have lots of books, though they also sell non-book items, and have for quite some time. They bring big name authors to the store and their events are often SRO.

    About 5 years ago now, they started selling romance—on two shelves. Points to them for trying, but really.  But now Romance has expanded to an entire bookshelf, though they need to be educated in what books to order. I now shop even more at my local independent.

  17. 17
    Babs says:

    As a kid I remember going to the original Borders shop on State Street in Ann Arbor with my parents (bit U of M alum)—it was a HUGE treat to go, and I always got to pick out one book for myself.

    So I remember Borders when it was basically an indie bookstore with an amazing selection of esoteric titles plus popular fiction and staff who KNEW books, I swear you could give them the vaguest outline of a book and someone there would be able to figure out what you wanted. I’ve watched it change into the big box store it is today and it just isn’t the same.

    That being said I haven’t shopped at a Borders in ages. I have a Kindle but I also use the library a ton (local branch is AWESOME even with reduced hours) and we have a good used book store near our house. I don’t feel the need to drive farther and hassle with mall parking only to run the gauntlet of displays of crap that are NOT books before I can get my hot little hands on something I want to read. Add to that staff who don’t know the product, are ambivalent about customer service and higher prices…not worth my time and effort honestly.

    Still, this news today makes me sad because I remember when “going to Borders” was a big deal!

  18. 18
    Black Velvet says:

    I work at a BN and I also mourn the loss of Borders, big box store or not they were part of the community of bookselling.  I think what most bookstores and what I love of indie bookstores is their knowledge and passing that on to the customer.  I’m an oldschool bookseller (have been with BN since I was 16 and I’m about to turn 32) and I passed on management and remained PT because I loved that element of bookselling when its about you and the customer. 

    Sadly, in this world of instant gratification takes too long, customers don’t want the face time, they just want their book or game (knock it in the BN stores if you want, but parents are diving on it with glee, especially since we carry educational reading games in addition to board games) and then they want to get out.  I have some hard core book fans who love to dig deep into the stacks and pull out new and old titles and go back and forth about which are best, but the economic downturn has forced the bottom line to take the place of customer service, and I think that’s probably the saddest thing of all.

  19. 19

    (I’ve blogged about the state of my local Borders here, here, here,
    and here.)

    The local independent bookseller – David-Kidd – closed before Christmas. The reason given was not that it wasn’t making money – it was – just that it wasn’t making enough money. It had long since started emulating the chain bookstores and stocked more Vera Bradley, tchotchkes, and chocolate than actual books.

    The local Borders is right next to Vanderbilt University and Medical Center. Over the last year or two it has noticibly stopped stocking books. It consolidated bookshelves – the romance section went from 2.5 rows of 4 cases each packed tight with book and overstock above to 1 row of 4 cases with empty spots and no overstock. I don’t know if it will close or not. I hope it doesn’t, as the closest Barnes and Noble and other Borders store, while not far mile-wise, are not even located in Nashville proper.

    I used to shop at Davis-Kidd until it stopped carrying much romance (and much else) and closed. I have tried to shop at Borders, but more often than not I can’t even find a new release in stock. They have plenty of Twilight, but I have that already. You know it’s bad when even the Nora Roberts collection doesn’t even take up a whole shelf. I’ve about given up going there even though it is in walking distance from work and home.

    I would happily give my money to support a local bookstore – chain, indie, whatever – if they would STOCK BOOKS. That’s all I ask. I would love to have a location where I could browse books and purchase. I’m a heavy user of my public library too, but sometimes I want to own the book, and I’m willing to give up my money for that honor. If I can find the book in a store. Usually I just give my money to Amazon because Borders doesn’t want to sell me anything in the way of books these days.

    It’s sad that I’m willing to throw money at booksellers but none of them seem to want to do what it takes (stock books, ideally a variety) to earn it.

    Apologies for my rant. This just really bothers me.

  20. 20
    JennyD says:

    The closest two bookstores to where I live are wonderful little used bookstores. I may or may not stop in at least once a week. =D And then about half-hour away are a Barnes and Noble and a Books-a-Million. I’ll wander in to check their sale books on occasion, but with the used bookstores, Paperbackswap, and Amazon, I tend to refuse to pay full price anymore…

  21. 21
    Crystal Posey says:

    We had a Waldenbooks in our mall, but it closed last year. According to the BORDERS website they no longer have a store in our state (Alabama). I either have to drive forty-five minutes (Books A Million), one hour to B&N, or order online. I miss our bookstore. I miss walking down the aisle, being surrounded by all the books.

  22. 22
    Emily says:

    We have both a Borders and Barnes & Noble about 15 minutes from me. I don’t get to visit often because my husband is away during the week and dragging my three children (ages 5 and under) anywhere can be a challenge. Which leads to my favorite reason for visiting a bookstore – I love to head to a bookstore when my husband says those wonderful words, “Honey, why don’t you get out of the house by yourself for a little bit.” It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I make a beeline for one of the bookstores. I love to grab some coffee and a book to read in quiet. The smell of books is what draws me in. That, and the opportunity to be around people who don’t need me to help them blow their noses.

    Truthfully, though, I spend more money when I’m able to shop online. I like being able to get more information about a book than just what the brief summary provides. Plus, I’m a person who likes to read books in order. Often, the stores only stock the “latest” in a romance series and I get twitchy just thinking about reading Book 3 before Book 1. And Amazon’s 4-for-3 deal is appealing because I can go through that many books in a week if my children cooperate and sleep at night. There are no unlimited funds here, so I’m on the lookout for deals and borrow frequently from the library.

    As for the toys – what bothered me most is what B&N had the audacity to charge for what I looked at. The mark-up was disturbing as it pains me to see people overpay for anything. It was clear to me that, at least at my store, the toys aren’t moving and are taking up floor space. And leading me back to my original reason for heading to the bookstore – I go there to get a breather from the responsibilities of parenthood, so bombarding me with toys the moment I walk through the door, cheapens the experience for me.

  23. 23
    selchie says:

    The nearest big chain store to me is about 300 km away. Safe to say, I don’t go there very often. There’s an independent bookstore and a used book store a few blocks from me, though. Their romance section is small, but some thought obviously goes into the picks, so it’s not too bad. That does mean that I’m limited by whatever the buyer for the store likes, and they like Scottish romances and Vikings. I didn’t know they still published Viking romances!

    For me, the biggest thing brick and mortar book stores have over online ones is the ability to browse easily and flip through books. I’m much more likely to just pick up something that looks interesting and buy it at a physical store than an online one. I think a good seller can cater to that by moving beyond just selling bestsellers and by putting some effort into finding good books their customers might not have heard of. I’m remembering a store I visited in a very small town where the owner had filled the store with a variety of weird, wonderful, fascinating books I’d never heard of. It definitely added value for me.

  24. 24
    jennifer says:

    A Borders is closest to me, but frankly I only go when the send me a coupon—I’d rather go to the Half-Price Books down the road for used books or order from Amazon because they have better deals.

  25. 25
    AmyW says:

    I mostly visit bookstores to browse around; I like seeing what catches my eye, especially in genres and by authors I don’t normally read. I actually have no idea what the closest bookstore to my house is. If there is a specific book I want (either print or ebook), I order it online—it’s more convenient and cheaper, especially since I save up a few titles to get free shipping. The closest bookstore to my office is in a mall and part of a big chain (Indigo/Coles/Smithbooks) but it’s little more than an alcove, with terrible selection. It’s pointless to go there. There is a lovely, huge Indigo near a movie theatre I go to, though, and that’s where I do most of my print-book browsing.

  26. 26

    In Northern Kentucky, where I live, we have a Borders, a Barnes and Noble, a Half-Priced Books and a local used bookstore chain, the Book Rack, all within a 15 minute drive from my house.  And fortunately, our county library system seems adequately funded.  I prefer Borders to BN, mostly because of the coupons I get in email regularly.  And I am TOTALLY going to be bummed if our store closes soon, because JR Ward is supposed to do a signing for her next BDB release there in April! 
    I use a Kindle App on my Blackberry, and just ordered a real Kindle, so I do buy alot of books on Amazon, but I love paper books, too, so I would say my book “budget”  (budget?  ha!) goes about half and half between paper and e-books.

  27. 27
    Barb in Maryland says:

    Hmm, the nearest bookstore to me is a B&N, approx 2 miles away.  I have not been in it in over 2 years.  Why? Because last time I was there I was thoroughly turned off by how crappy the store looked and the pathetic selections and the really bad service. 
    The closest Borders is about 5-6 miles away and I love it! Of course it helps that I know all the managers (indeed, as a former Waldenbooks employee, I worked with most of them at one time!).  They are doing their best under the circumstances—always friendly, always good service.  If this store closes (which I kinda doubt, as it has been consistently profitable), I will fall back on Amazon.  Which is really too bad.  Amazon is great if you already know you want the book.  But you can’t browse!  And I have saved oodles of $$$$ over the years by being able to actually flip through a book that sounded interesting and then finding it wasn’t to my taste.
    Alas, there are no local new bookstores in the area.  If you don’t want Borders or B&N, then you are left with Target, Wal-Mart, and the grocery stores.
    There is one (rather pathetic)used bookstore locally.  The best used bookstore is 10+ miles down the highway.

  28. 28
    Debra Hyde says:

    I have both a Borders and B&N four miles away.  Through the years, Borders has far-and-away been the better of the two stores, largely because, for me, it actually put a lot of erotic fiction on its shelves.  I’m certain my store will be among those destined to close because its foot traffic has fallen off dramatically over the last several years, a sad outcome for a place that was a “destination” when it first opened, always crowded with activity like live music, reading groups, table game nights.

    When mine closes, I’ll continue to buy e-books from Borders and I’ll make periodic visits to a busy Borders about 1/2 west of me. I’ll make most of my hardcopy book purchases, however, through a large NYC indie that often has better price points than Amazon.

    Regardless, I’ll miss the Borders of old.

  29. 29
    Kates says:

    The nearest to me is about thirty miles away and there is at least one independent and several B&N’s around that fill the gap. Though I have been slightly unhappy with B&N lately with how they have redone their stores. I agree that there seems to be more focus on toys, games, and gifts that really don’t have anything to do with reading. Book sections have been moved to accomodate this and it makes it harder to find what you or looking for or explore new reading options.

  30. 30
    Sharon says:

    Liz Talley touches on a good point —independent booksellers HAVE to be enthusiastic, friendly people. There is no bigger turnoff than to walk into a small bookstore and be given the cold shoulder by disinterested, unfriendly owners. Why did these people ever choose this career path? It’s not just booksellers, but any small business owner—if you don’t love what you do and communicate that passion to potential customers, forget about it.  Because we all CAN order much cheaper from Amazon, ya know?

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