Yesterday, State Delegate Heather Mizeur (who represents Silver Spring and Takoma Park) tweeted that the Borders will stay open because of "how great and vibrant Ellsworth Drive is." She's right. Bookstores have an important role in urban places. They bring activity, in the form of foot traffic and customers, but they also feed off the area's energy. You're walking down Ellsworth Drive for some reason - dinner and a movie, coming back from the Metro, going to work - and find yourself killing ten minutes in the bookstore. Sometimes, you'll buy something. Other times, you won't. But there are enough people doing this that they survive.
Not so at Borders' locations at White Flint Mall, Bowie Town Center or the Boulevard at the Capital Center in Largo, all three of which will close within the next few weeks. Unlike downtown Silver Spring, these three places are all solely shopping centers. And they're all struggling, though for different reasons: White Flint is is showing its age and losing out to more upscale shopping areas like Friendship Heights, while both Bowie Town Center and the Boulevard have struggled with the economic downturn and fears of crime. These three places draw people intentionally. You may not be going to White Flint for Borders, and you might stop in on a whim, but you're only at the mall because you're there to shop. Already, you've lost potential customers.
Of course, this theory doesn't explain how Borders' branches in Dupont Circle and Friendship Heights are also closing. Blogger Bossi created these charts showing how much foot traffic there is in Silver Spring and Friendship Heights, and they're roughly equal. And it's likely that there's much less foot traffic in Silver Spring than there is in Dupont Circle. I'm not sure why their only remaining stores in the District - the one on 14th Street in Metro Center closed last summer and will become a Clyde's restaurant - aren't busy enough to stay open.
Meanwhile, downtown Silver Spring just got itself another draw for people across the region. After the store closures, the next closest location in Maryland will be Columbia, 23 miles away. (Of course, they'll still have their Pentagon City store, but that's in Virginia.)