From the café balcony at the new Borders bookstore at Alameda Towne Centre, there's a 180-degree view which includes the Oakland Hills, the lagoon and, to the south over the tops of the shopping center, a bit of the San Francisco peninsula.
The new two-story store adjacent to Safeway, at 23,000 square feet, is one of 14 "concept" stores Borders Inc. — which also owns Waldenbooks — is opening this year.
"Borders is going to be great," says Michael Corbitt, of Harsch Investment Properties, which runs the Towne Centre. "It's all about the future. It's not just another bookstore."
The Towne Centre Borders store, which opened Thursday, features technology prominently. Customers can make their own CDs or downloadable mixes, make travel reservations, search and print out recipes, dive into their family history on an interactive computer station created in partnership with ancestry.com, or create digital books or photo albums.
"I can see my 15-year-old and 13-year-old going in there with their pictures and making an album," said Corbitt. "And Borders will have staff who can walk people through all the technology."
The new Borders look also emphasizes comfort and ease-of-use, with circular display tables, lots of soft seating, warm colors and easy-to-find popular travel, wellness and cooking sections. There's also a good-sized café on the second floor run by Borders partner Seattle's Best Coffee.
"Yes it's about technology, but it's also about the experience," said Tim Anderson, a vice president for Borders, Inc. "We want it to be a place where people can feel comfortable, a home away from home." Anderson said a lot of attention and thought has been put into the details of the store's design. The pre-teen books, for example, have been separated into their own section.
"Older kids don't want to be browsing near the board books," said Anderson. And the computer search station in the kids' section is at child height. Theme-specific, in-house television programming will air in several of the store sections, like travel and cooking.
"We're trying to create an environment that is different, that brings people here and encourages them to stay a while." Anderson said Borders knows that customers have a lot of choices, from discount retailers to online stores, and they need a reason to come to the store.
"This is not a pilot or a test," said Anderson. "This is how all the new stores are going to roll out from now on."
The opening at Alameda Towne Center comes on the heels of an announcement last month that Borders Inc. had to line up more than $40 million in financing to fund operations and may put itself up for sale.
Alameda's Borders' doors opened for business on Thursday, but the official grand opening will be celebrated in a weekend-long series of events, May 30 through June 1. Clifford the Big Red Dog will pay a visit to the store as well as Willie Brown, former San Francisco mayor and speaker of the California State Assembly, and journalist Rick Kushman.
For operations manager Jennéa Weber, who managed the small Waldenbooks at the shopping center for 10 years until it closed last month, the opening of the snazzy new Borders is cause for great excitement.
"I'm in awe," she said. "And I'm most looking forward to the café."