I never thought I’d say this about the closing of a big box retailer, but I’m sad about the Borders closing.
I grew up within bike distance of a public library: the Wells Library, in my home town of Lafayette. The library was a frequent destination for me on summer days. I would ride my bike there and hang out in the stacks all the time. I still love library stacks. I love the smell of the aging books. I love discovering hidden gems on the shelves. I love the sounds of the library. The hushed voices. The hum of the air conditioning and the click of shoes on terrazzo floors. It’s more than merely the love of reading, it’s a love of the experience. The thrill of the hunt, with the reward of a great book. Which is why I also love bookstores.
There aren’t many things I like about my hometown. But one of them is a bookstore: Von’s Books. Von’s books was much like a library to me. It was a little further out of reach, so I had to be taken there as a kid–and fortunately my mother is a reader, too. Von’s is the kind of overstocked independent bookseller you might see in a charming romantic comedy. It’s homey. It’s dusty. The shelfs are bursting with books and it seems there are stacks of to-be-shelved inventory all over the place. I loved that I could get lost in the shelves there just like the stacks at the library. I also loved that every time I needed help finding something, I had to go to the counter at the front of the store where the clerk could almost always be found with their nose in a book.
That was never my experience with the big box booksellers, like Borders or Barnes & Noble. Sure, they had row after row of books. Sometimes their stores seemed bigger to me than the library I remember from my childhood. They had friendly clerks, roaming the stores and keeping the shelves tidy. The difference was that when I wanted to ask about a book or an author or ask for a recommendation, it was a crapshoot. Some clerks were readers. Bookstores attract people who want an employee discount, I’m sure. But more often than not, the clerk would need to run off to a computer terminal to answer my questions. It was often clear to me that this was a job to them. Just a job. I want my bookstore to be staffed by people who read voraciously and who love books, not just people who need a job.
I hated Borders for other reasons, too. In college, I was in Bloomington, Indiana, which had an indie bookstore by the name of Morgensterns. I loved Morgenstern’s. My friend and I would go there to hang out. It wasn’t as musty and dusty as Von’s, but they had a good selection and a staff that seemed to know and love books. Then Borders opened. It was offensive to me. It wasn’t just that Borders was a “big box” chain store. It was that they chose for their location a space in the very same shopping center, just a few doors down from Morgensterns. There was no doubt in my mind then, nor is there now, that Borders wanted to put Morgensterns out of business, pure and simple. And they did. I don’t think it was even a year before Morgensterns closed their doors.
So I can’t say I wasn’t the tiniest bit happy when I first started hearing about Borders problems. Karma, man, it’s a bitch. But I guess I thought that like many corporations facing grim realities in a digital age they’d find a way to get by. Downsize, maybe, but come out still chugging along. I had hope when it looked like Books-A-Million might come in and scoop up their remaining stores. The notion that their stores are worth more liquidated rather than open, selling books to the public, really makes my heart ache. No bookseller is worth more closed. None.
In my current hometown, Oak Park, Borders occupies a prominent anchor store position near a busy intersection downtown. We aren’t without other fantastic bookstore options in Oak Park. Down the street from Borders is The Book Table, where the people staffing the store read books and where a book lover always feels welcome. We also have The Magic Tree–which is a favorite of my daughter. I pay more for books at both of those stores than I would on Amazon because I know I’m paying for more than just a book. I’m paying to have them stay in the community, to keep my town the kind of town I want to live in and the kind of town I want my daughter to grow up in. I’m happy to do so and I’m happy to support these local businesses.
Because of that and my feelings about Borders, you might think I’d be happy about their closing. But I’m not. I’m sad. Really sad. I’m sad because of the people Borders closing will put out of work. I’m sad because of empty storefront that will occupy that busy corner in my town. I’m sad because there’s one less outlet for publishers to promote authors to the masses. But most of all, I’m sad because there’s one less bookstore to haunt in my hometown.