Closing down Borders sign: "No toilets, try Amazon"

An anonymous wag at a closing-down Borders store in Chicago put up this sign advising customers where they should try to find toilet facilities. It's funny, but if Borders' best pitch is, "We have less selection than Amazon, but you should see our toilets!" then I think I might be able to put my finger on at least one of the firm's problems. For one thing: if you've got an address to which Amazon might deliver a book, presumably there is a working toilet at that same address, one that is even more convenient than the toilet Borders used to let you use while shopping there.

Closing Borders Store Tells Customers Where To Find A Restroom


  1. I think I might be able to put my finger on at least one of the firm’s problems.
    LOL. If you’ve read posts by employees during a store opening comments “This is the reason why you’re closing” are over done to the point of annoyance. That and the fact that the prices are still at retail or more until several months into the liquidation, due to the scummy tactics of the liquidators.

  2. Amazon delivers to my home and no you can’t use the toilet.

    I always thought McDonalds and Burger King were just elaborate schemes to provide the public with toilets.

  3. Ask the former employees of the defunct independent bookstore up the street how they feel about Border’s problems with Amazon.

    Karma’s a bitch.

    1. I don’t know about you but the owner and employees of the indie-store that closed down here are currently WORKING at the Borders that is closing. I’m guessing they’re feeling none-to happy.

      1. Why? Both real estate and books are cheaper than ever right now. They would do well to contact the landlord.

  4. I always thought there were going out of business because of their crappy service. Or at least all the ones I’ve been in (which isn’t many) the people behind the counter seemed more interested in hanging out and chatting to each other than helping me….

    Meh, I don’t really buy that many books anyway.

    -and just to point it out. Amazon should deliver to a P.O. Box. That’s a pretty swank box if it has a toilet in it.

    1. Receiving minimum wage, working with incompetent managers, and being constantly under suspicion as the cause of “shrinkage,” i.e., theft or loss, has a way of hipping employees to what they can reasonably expect from a job, and how they should act accordingly. Customers don’t really enter the equation: or at least they didn’t when I worked at a Borders.

      1. Odd…

        Minimum wage and shrink issues were standard when I worked at B&N for a while. At least we had a couple of fairly competent managers, perhaps a little overly enthusiastic for my taste, but they knew how to deal with customers and helping other employees do their job better.

        Of course I’ve seen the same attitudes displayed in many retail places. If you work retail your job is really about helping the customer, not “hanging out”… (Not that I mind places that casually talk to the frequent customers or other staff. Those are some of the nicest establishments you can usually visit. But don’t just ignore me, or make me seem like a burden. You don’t work for the government, me buying something really does pay your paycheck.) -granted I know I’m only one person, but do that long enough and it adds up.

        I also agree about being a manager, managing other managers. Really isn’t the point of a manager just to make sure the workers are doing their job, take care of some of the more important issues, and push some paper? If you need a manager to make sure your other managers are doing their job…umm…yeah.

  5. Sounds more like bitterness over losing customers to Amazon, like it belongs on

  6. Amazon can’t be beat. I place my order and the books are delivered a few days later with free shipping. The only time I will buy books from Borders is if I’m travelling and have run out of reading material. Also, I prefer my own bathroom.

  7. Take it for what it is, a little bit of humor poking fun at what’s happening in the book world. I don’t think there’s much need to defend Amazon’s honor with the fact that most of us have indoor plumbing.

  8. I’m sure the random employee who posted the snarky sign had nothing to do with Borders’ corporate policies… Shame to blame them for losing their job and getting out one last bit of pointless rebellion. As someone who was recently laid off, I can understand their frustration.

    Funny sign, though. ;)

  9. It doesn’t apply to bookstores much, but I’m really sympathetic to bricks-and-mortar stores when people go in to look at (say) cameras in person, and then go order them cheaper online. Is this taking advantage of them? There’s nothing explicitly wrong about it, but obviously if everyone does this, then they all go out of business and then nobody can get their hands on physical devices.

  10. I worked at this store (Uptown Chicago) until yesterday when it closed. The liquidators made us close our restrooms to the public weeks ago and the sign was a supervisors’ joking response to the large amount of people who would ask to use the bathroom on a daily basis. It didn’t help that we were located next to two large concert facilities that created quite a “flow” of people trying to use our restrooms. Like Benders comment says, “Take it for what it is, a little bit of humor poking fun at what’s happening in the book world.”.

  11. HMV in the UK are heading the same way – and for much the same reasons: they lost sight of what they were for, and instead became just another faceless corporation trying to do a bit of everything. Even Amazon has that problem – they are great suppliers but lousy conversationalists.

    My nebulous theory of business says that as soon as a company grows large enough to need a level of management whose only job is to manage other managers then it is too big. This often seems to coincide with the time the company “goes public” and stops being responsive to its customers but instead only to its shareholders.

  12. This gives me a kernel of an idea. Open a chain of restrooms. Perhaps have a side-business selling reading materials for your patrons to take into the john with them.

    1. They already have them through the UK and Europe (pay toliets) you just have to be luck and get a permit to open up a news agent’s (those shacks you see that sell gum, cigarettes and newspapers, I think they might still exist outside of movie cliches) right next to an existing one.

  13. To the extent that there’s any kind of serious message behind the sign, it’s that there’s a non-zero value to regular old brick-and-mortar retail that goes beyond its ability to meet market needs.

    Of course, as an earlier commenter observed, similar points were made over a period of years by defenders of the many independent bookstores ground down and plowed under by big chains.

  14. I’ve pretty much stopped shopping at Amazon until they stop evading state sales taxes. It’s absurd that “internet” retailers still avoid collecting sales tax. I realize the burden is actually up to the consumers to report it, but until that is the case for all retailers, Amazon’s pro-active tax dodging ways will not get my money.

    1. If there’s tax dodging it’s not Amazon’s that’s at fault. Many states (my home of WI for instance) ask on tax returns how much untaxed money you spent on online orders and then adds it to what you owe. If you choose not to declare these purchases then you are dodging the tax.

      The burden is on the consumer, not the retailer to pay the sales tax.

      1. Every brick-and-mortar retailer in the country is responsible for collecting sales tax. The standard should be the same for online retailers.

        Or we could do it the other way: let’s make the customer responsible for paying sales tax on all purchases. Retailers could put a “sales tax jar” on the counter for customers to pitch in their voluntary payments.

        1. And where does Amazon pay the tax? Shipping address? Just the zip code? Billing Address? Just the zip code of the billing address?

          All of these can result in different taxes.

          1. To the billing address, this standard was established long ago. Let’s say I buy online from sears, I have to pay sales tax so that I just don’t walk into the store, order online and pick things up. As far as reporting use tax on my own taxes, why would I want to keep track of every $2 kindle book I bought over the last year and whether it was taxed or not. It puts all the burden on the customer.

          2. And where does Amazon pay the tax? Shipping address? Just the zip code? Billing Address? Just the zip code of the billing address?

            Plus, you’re then requiring every online store to know the tax requirements across the entire world (or, at a minimum, the areas they will ship to). And somehow keep up with changes in those requirements in places that they have no direct contact with.

            I’m not a fan of the current situation myself, but the alternatives appear to be equally bad. And it’s not just Amazon that would be impacted.

          3. Plus, you’re then requiring every online store to know the tax requirements across the entire world (or, at a minimum, the areas they will ship to). And somehow keep up with changes in those requirements in places that they have no direct contact with.

            No. Just USA. For the rest of the world, they simply don’t collext sales tax. The recipient will pay sales tax to customs when the package arrives.

            However, If I buy anything from and use Express shipping, Amazon will collect Norwegian taxes, so they’ve already implemented this supposedly impossible system. Amazon UK (and I assume .fr .it and .de too) also charges the recipient’s tax when it ships to a EU country. When they ship to a non-EU country, they charge no tax at all.

        2. But because they are not required you cannot make the claim that online retailers are somehow doing something wrong. It’s not that I don’t support requiring them to collect the tax but until that’s the case they are not the one’s to blame.

          1. Yeah, they are doing something wrong, as they are actively lobbying to avoid the tax, and publicly blackmailing state government with “loss of jobs” or “moving jobs elsewhere” when they say they will cancel affiliate relationships and move distribution elsewhere.
            Until the playing field is leveled, they will continue playing states off one another, yet continue to benefit from the infrastructure that the states provide for them to do their multi million dollar business. Given that they “lead” in this lobbying and obstruction, I’m singling them out for blame.

          2. In the same vein states are singling out Amazon, there and hundreds (thousands, I’d imagine) of small retailers out there that only collect sales tax from buyers in the state they’re located in. Granted, taken on their own very few of them do billions of dollars in business each year but how is one worse than the other? Because a mom and pop store can’t afford lobbyists? I doubt they’re any more eager to collect these taxes than Amazon is.

            If we boycotted every company that lobbied and weaseled its way out of paying state and Federal taxes then the list of manufacturers and retailers available for patronage would be very small indeed.

            Close the sales tax loophole, I agree that it should be. But there are also myriad others (not to mention outright bad tax policies) that need to be closed that would also result in significant increases in tax revenue.

    2. but Amazon doesn’t pay the state sales tax – you do. You should be declaring it and sending in voluntarily. Problem solved.

    3. The very notion that people should pay “sales tax” at all needs to be revisited. Maybe towns should just have a membership fee, collected monthly like rent.

    4. I’ve pretty much stopped shopping at Amazon until they stop evading state sales taxes. It’s absurd that “internet” retailers still avoid collecting sales tax.

      If you crossed a border into a jurisdiction without sales tax, you wouldn’t pay your home rate either. Why should it differ if you do so by car or by internet?

      1. Your Platonism is showing. Amazon isn’t in a jurisdiction without sales tax. Even if we consider cyberspace an alternative “place” – not entirely ontologically unreasonable – the fact that the Amazon website is there does not mean their company or products are there. Amazon-the-corporation is a real physical thing, a system of trucks, warehouses, packages, and offices. Their trucks travel on publicly maintained roads to deliver physical products to customers who are the citizens of their polity, part of the physical economy of goods. Hence, insofar as sales tax should be added to any purchases, it should be added to those from Amazon.

  15. Considering the horrible smell of some Borders rest rooms I’ve been in, I’m not sure they were really competing with Amazon in that sector. The Borders in Palo Alto is pretty much the toilet for the entire University Avenue community. If they would’ve rebranded as public toilets, Borders MAY have been able to stay in the game.

  16. The Vancouver Public Library has washrooms, but you probably don’t want to use them after the homeless people have bathed in them.

  17. It’s too bad Borders made such terrible decisions, which reflected upon their product offerings and book selection. I mostly just feel bad for the employees who become unemployed because of this.

    Of course, if I had to use a bathroom at a book store, I guess B&N wouldn’t be a bad idea. I mean, they are staying afloat, right? They are brick and mortar as well as online, have been keeping up with technology, and evolving with the rest of the world. Am I wrong on this?

    Borders’ veiled attempt at catching up with technology was laughable. While the Kobo and the Kobo book store were not products of Borders, Borders did license it and brand it, and it felt very much like a Borders experience. I still regret that purchase and it almost made me swear off epaper based ebook readers (I tried a Kindle and learned the experience could actually be a good one).

  18. I love Borders and Amazon. The death of brick and mortar stores, be they bookstores, video stores or whatever makes me sad.

    Browsing online and browsing shelves are not the same thing. The physical absence of staff and other customers is something that is a loss too; interacting with staff and customer accounts online is not the same either. My Borders also gave discounts to people who became Friends of the New York State Library, and I don’t know that Amazon has anything equivalent benefitting people in my community.

  19. I’ve seen the bathrooms in our closest Borders stores and Amazon may have the advantage there as well. I’m just relieved that the Borders in my hometown is still open and apparently going strong. Growing up, there was a tiny Walden’s Books. In middle school, someone opened a used book store. When I was in high school, Borders came and that was the first time we had a decent book store. Might have been upsetting if it had closed out an indie store, but for us it filled a need.

  20. I’d say it is a dig at people who go into stores just ot use the bathroom. And there are so very very many. Hint: malls tend to have staff who do little besides clean the washrooms- retail stores never do. Something to think about.

  21. The Borders that’s closing near me also has the bathrooms closed – I guess they don’t want customers hanging around? And in most Borders stores I’ve been in over the last decade, keeping the bathrooms clean and repaired never appeared to have been a high priority.

  22. There is a culture shift as well, and chain bookstores didn’t think to monetize it.
    Bookstores are now libraries. Every single time I walk in, I see at least two people with their table stacked high with magazines and books (which they never even bother to put back). Some do it for school or work, and others do it for entertainment. Couple that with the legions of laptop users who spend the entire day working at the bookstore, and you can see why they went out of business. They turned into a library with a mediocre selection of materials.

    It is sad to see the idea of a bookstore die, but it isn’t too bad seeing a Borders die specifically.

  23. Plenty of good independent/locally owned bookstores in Chicago to patronize before Amazon or Borders.

  24. If multinational corporations weren’t allowed to do all their manufacturing in countries where there are low wages inadequate worker protections and then ship the products here, then I dare say we wouldn’t have a bunch of service industry workers losing their jobs with nowhere to go.

  25. I’ve made stops at stores just to use the bathroom, quite frequently actually. There are certain stores and other places you can always rely on to have a bathroom usable by customers – Borders, B&N, Wal-Mart, Target, and most grocery stores. Most chain fast-food restaurants work too, but I feel more scummy going in those just to use the bathroom than the big stores.

    It’s good to keep a mental map of where all these things are in your area, because you never know when you’ll need to use one, and you sure as heck aren’t going to be able to just walk in to most other businesses and use the bathroom without buying anything. Yes, this is a George Costanza mindset :)

    And you know what? As a marketing strategy, it’s pretty good to allow people unrestricted access to your bathroom – gets people in the store, for sure. There is extra cost and annoyance involved if you’re a smaller place, but by restricting access you also annoy your potential customers, many of whom will subsequently never consider going back to your business because of it.

    I have to admit that if I ran a small business in a city area with a lot of foot traffic, where lots of people would try to come in just to use the bathroom, I’d be annoyed. But I wouldn’t be an asshole about it like most places are. Maybe I’d charge a quarter to use it or something, unless you’re a customer.

    There’s a gas station in the Mojave, middle of nowhere, no other places to stop for miles and miles, that charges a quarter to use their bathroom. It annoyed me the couple times I went because you have to pay even if you buy gas – there’s a coin-operated lock on the door. You don’t get much for your quarter, either – it’s a typical extremely scummy middle-of-nowhere bathroom.

    1. In the Mojave? That quarter helps pay their water bill for your 1.5 liter – 3.5 gallons worth of flushes (depending on toilet model) your adding to an expensive desert area water bill. Makes perfect sense to me.

  26. At the time, when I worked at Borders, there was a freeze on employee salaries, due to the financial struggle the company was going through.

    Yet, somehow could afford to mail us (and I’m sure thousands of other stores) boxes of graphically designed, full color, front-and-back glossy flyers and leaflets every week. These were to be handed out to the customers as they walked in the door – never mind the signs in the store, the ads in the newspaper, ads on the website and the e-mails they sent everyone. Nope, every week we handed out thousands of these flyers so that customers could leave them on the floor, between books and in puddles of coffee.

  27. This store is closing because it is obsolete. Someone else found a way to sell books better and cheaper. Times change.

    Maybe we should stop seeking a cure for cancer- it’s going to put a lot of oncologists out of work.

  28. Border’s was cool for their selection and general atmosphere, but the prices were kinda high.

    Personally, I prefer Amazon or a Family-owned bookstore to Borders/B&N etc. B&N is more convenient though because they are everywhere and you can get Starbucks inside.

    Sorry Borders, I’m gonna go ahead and pee behind your store, then I’ll go buy more stuff on Amazon for the cheap.

    You know what we need? A site like Amazon that doesn’t take a cut from sellers and doesn’t sell any products of its own. Most of the stuff I buy on Amazon doesn’t come from Amazon, just some person selling things on there, but I know Amazon is gouging them for the privilege to post their goods on the site. Hmmm

    1. You know what we need? A site like Amazon that doesn’t take a cut from sellers

      Um, exactly how do you think Amazon makes enough money, to, you know, operate?

      I sell through Amazon. Yes, Amazon takes a hefty slice out of each sale. But I’m benefiting from Amazon’s near-monopoly; if your book isn’t available through Amazon, then in many buyer’s eyes it pretty much doesn’t exist.

  29. In this state every Borders is over the square footage limit above which they are required to provide public restrooms.

  30. I live in Washington state. I pay sales tax every single time I buy something from Amazon, and they seem to have no trouble knowing how much I should pay.

  31. Bookstores are going through the travails of the Record & CD shop now. You can see how it will all end: Large, big block booksellers will be wiped out by internet behemoths. Small, boutiquey shops will survive — particularly if they have a strong internet presence. Personally, I like this future. Someday, shopping will be fun again.

  32. The amazon seems like a long way to go for toilets. Are amazonian toilets bigger or something? I don’t get it. There are many other climate zones that also have working toilets.

    1. But every time you flush, you’re fertilizing the rainforest.

      Me, I’ll continue to haunt independent and used bookstores. Yes, I pay more for new. No, I don’t care. I like the experience, the instant gratification and the potential for discovery.

      The same applies to WalMart, where I only buy underwear, socks and jeans because there’s no mom/pop stores in my area that sell them. Yes, I pay more. No, I don’t care. It matters to me.

  33. I’m blown away by the smug and snark in the comments.

    Borders fucked up. Like lots of big box retailers, these fucks gambled on real estate and like any good con, they screwed themselves. But the people who ran the company into the ground weren’t booksellers. They are gekko galts, boys and girls in suits, the same smug and snarky professionals who have made sociopathy philosophical and fashionable.

    If Borders became just another faceless corporation that’s because in the modern bookstore business model that is what suits do – enterprising hacks who will squeeze quirky and interesting into mass produced, mass marketed, mass consumed twinkie collections of words and images. For a while Borders was a pretty interesting place that carried a far larger range of books than any Barnes and Noble ever did, unless you count the infinite number of remainders that is Barnes and Noble’s stock in trade.

    The elevation of Amazon to some godhead of choice, price, ease, and whathaveyou is also so much smoke up our ass. Online retailers would have never survived, or certainly less so than they do, if they had to pay sales tax. Or rather, if the customer had to on checkout. Online commerce has become some kind of Republican wet dream – fewer regulations, lower taxes, a faceless world and appearance of sociality, and little accountability.

    And the mindless consumer is permitted to be more so since they don’t have to see the wonderful warehouse jobs that the Amazons of the world create. The Border employees had some substantive tie to the wares they sold; fulfilling orders at Amazon is like the operational definition of workplace alienation. I can only imagine the stories these workers could tell about the a life in shrinkwrap, cardboard, and fulfillment boxes rolling down the line.

    I’m thinking we deserve the future we’re fucking up for ourselves. Yeah, I can be home and one with my very own toilet, listening to lower-quality mp3s, reading more energy-dependent ebooks, and sitting on the crapper with my laptop watching thugs, fraudsters, and hackers gobble up whats left of my personal life.

    Fuck convenience.

    1. “I’m thinking we deserve the future we’re fucking up for ourselves.”

      Your idolization of a bunch of sad minimalls, chain stores and big-box retailers is what saddens me much more than a future with Amazon.

      1. Well, I’ve worked in a mini-mall, and I’ve worked in a warehouse, and for me there is no comparison. Retail for me, thank. But then again, I like colors besides cinderblock gray and sounds other than conveyor belt clatter and fork-lift whines.

    2. Online retailers would have never survived, or certainly less so than they do, if they had to pay sales tax.

      You don’t get out (of the US) much, do you?

      That’s overstating things a little bit. Over here I still pay 20% VAT when I buy from local Amazon branches (and countless other online retailers) and somehow they still thrive here.

  34. For all the people who are railing about internet retailers and sales tax, this issue is a lot older than the internet. It’s not about the internet–it’s about interstate mail order, by whatever means the order is placed. Notice the numbers “1967” and “1987” in this New York Times article.

    The 1967 case cited is National Bellas Hess Inc. v. Department of Revenue of the State of Illinois, 386 U.S. 753 (1967)

    The Court ruled in 1992 in a similar matter, retaining its basic findings but determining that taxing interstate sales was not a Due Process Clause violation.

    Quill Corporation v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992)

    In short, people need to quit focusing like a laser beam on the internet, because it’s not the technology that is the issue.

    1. Oh, and re: sales tax –

      There’s no way that Quill foresaw the level of online commerce in place today – and no sales tax is a significant price advantage. Technically, you’re actually supposed to pay a use tax on all the online purchases you make, but it’s tough to enforce without getting customer lists, which are rightfully protected.

      Amazon collects sales tax on behalf of other companies – it’s not too hard, as someone argued. To someone else about small businesses not collecting for other states: depends on the state. NY requires it on everything now, and we do so little business with other states that it’s not that worrisome. Personally, I’d rather that we get a level playing field when it comes to pricing than let Amazon continue taking over.

      Incidentally, there’s a U of TN study that estimates New Mexico, for example, will lose $120 million in revenue from uncollected sales tax in 2012. Catalog sales? Never would’ve made that hole so big – and how many states this year had massive shortfalls?

      Anonymous commenter #58 – I think I love you.

  35. From the antipodes, where the people who own several chain bookstores (including our Borders) are in liquidation, I gather the story is bad management. They based their model on applying the procurement model – and service levels, really – of our monopoly-esque supermarkets. And failed.

    The independents report that they’re doing fine.

    1. The independents are fine? Many are doing okay, but for how long? Most are reporting extremely lousy and worrisome winters.

  36. Oh come on – what a ridiculous criticism.

    It’s obviously fair to comment on customers using bricks and mortar stores for physical access – restrooms, book browsing, whatever – and then supporting Amazon, which fights tooth and nail to protect its loophole of a business model.

    Selection? My bookstore can get nearly any book requested in two business days to the store – at no shipping charge. Amazon’s free shipping? Minimum nine days, right?

    My bookstore pays state and local taxes, has author events, donates to the community, has actual non-algorithm recommendations, and doesn’t promote unfair business practices or discount culture. And as long as we’re talking about pricing: note that most books under ten dollars aren’t discounted anymore.

    Actually, Borders does most of those things, too. They made some mistakes in the e-commerce rise, but what a facile post.

  37. Cory, Your are confusing a “F#$% You” with an actual request to go have intercourse with ones self. There is some semantic confusion on your part. Or the desire to be woefully didactic.

  38. Five days a week I drive past Borders store #2 in Southfield, MI. Now I won’t be able to keep a straight face.

  39. Unless the UPS guy is feeling randy, the restroom at Borders potentially fulfills one function that Amazon doesn’t.

  40. That brick and mortar store close after having killed the independents because of new brick and mortar that is over the internet is just a new cycle. Repeating and repeating. Next will be the ebook instead of physical books. Amazon is making it too. Then what next?

    BTW eons ago, Chapters in Canada tried to buy Borders. The Canadian Govt said no (some stupid law that still exists that makes us have a retarded internet too – one that prevent foreign investment). Instead they bought Chapters, the bigger chain in Canada and merged. Today there is barely any alternative, beside Amazon(.ca), which BTW does not really have anything else than book and DVD in Canada (most of the other stuff they don’t even ship from the US to Canada). And Chapters also does internet sales, cheaper than in their stores. Go figure. And it should be noted that Amazon in Canada is just Amazon in the US with an agreement with Canada Post to ship in Canada. Because due to the same stupid law they were not allowed in Canada.

  41. The joke is very funny. What most readers don’t realize, until the shift their perspective, is that Amazon actually happens to be a restaurant adjacent to Borders.

    Map it, search for Amazon.

  42. I went for a job at Borders some years ago. After having what I thought was a great interview, friendly, chatty etc. The manager informed me he only had two people left to interview, but that I was a cert for a second interview.

    Less than a full day later I got a pro-forma letter saying “Thanks for your interest, but no thanks”.

    This led me to believe that the successful applicant had already been chosen and they were just going through the motions of interviewing the others. A simple “Sorry, we’ve filled the position already” when I went for the interview, would have been nice, rather than the bald-faced lies.

    This, plus the fact that their prices were always RRP, never less, made me less than fond of Borders.

    I love books, but I’m not sorry to see Borders go down the toilet.

  43. It’s not the tax. I’d gladly pay an extra $2 to get the book I want on the way home from work.

    The problem is they never have what I want.

    Every time they remodel, they have less books.

    They took out books to add pop CDs. Do you even know anyone that has bought a CD player in the last 10 years?

    The books they do have are just a small selection of the same lowest common denominator pablum. 30 copies of ‘The Secret’ but no engineering books.

    They often don’t stock the whole series only the first few popular ones so you’ll have to order the rest anyway.

    The ‘modern’ public libraries suffer from all the same problems. Even at the university most of the technical books are from the 70s and are being sold off to make room for ‘art’ displays.

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