Borders Books: Tough to Say Goodbye
Seventeen years ago I stood outside my town’s newly built Borders Books and thought, “What would I ever do if this place closed.” While only being open a few months it had quickly become my place of quiet and solitude. A place many called my sanctuary. It had the unwritten rules of going to your local library but without the stiffness. Walking through the front doors brought a feeling of endless possibilities and a childlike curiosity. Now with the doors soon to close forever, it brings sadness and a reflection of many years of enjoyment.
Borders shelves held a million paths to take outside the ones you may have tread so often. Scouring rows and rows of books with an open mind led you to read and explore new authors. My world has grown since discovering, John Fante, David Foster Wallace, Charles Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, Anne Sexton, Malcolm Gladwell, Nelson Algren, etc… But it wasn’t just fiction or poetry; it was also learning how to design web pages, trade in the stock market, poker strategies, writing advice and so much more. It’s easy to read this and think, “Big deal, you can Google it or look online for any answer.” And that is where most miss the point. It’s the discovery. It’s the reference. It’s the research. It’s the feeling of thinking a certain book was written just for you. The author connects his words to some part of your life and makes you think and reflect. You slow your reading because you don’t want that book to end. I’m sure many readers would agree that they could look at their bookshelf and remember where they bought the books that truly moved them.
There are those that may find it odd to be so reflective of a bookstore or for that matter in its basic form, a building, closing. But much like any place where people gather for similar reasons, each Borders across the country was a reflection of that community. Through its author readings, kids story time, book clubs, employee book reviews, charity work and local school/teacher contributions it was more than a retail book store. For many it was a social gathering, a place to meet without the noise and distraction of outside forces. And even if you knew no one, there was still the feeling of being connected through one common interest, books.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware that Borders wasn’t keeping up with the times, which is to say technology ran past the bookstore chain. The birth of the e-Book was the beginning of a slow death for Borders. When the Kindle/Amazon hit the market it was a sign of the times for words on paper. Not long after, the Barnes & Noble chain jumped into the e-Book game to try and keep up. Borders sat on the sideline seemingly content with its shelves of books and magazines. I know there are many more reasons for the demise of my book store, but as I view the giant, “ Store Closing” banner flapping obliviously from the brick wall I can’t help but wonder how it really came to this. But what’s done is done.
As the final weeks tick down I find each visit is like a wake in stages. Watching eager bargain hunters pick the bones clean, while little kids scream and cry breaking the understood code of silence sends a dose of melancholy through my heart. It’s like an adult watching their childhood park bulldozed. I stand amongst the shelves and try to bargain with myself. I know across the street there’s another bookstore. I know I can go online and order. But that seems sacrilegious for use of a strong word. The atmosphere, the comfort, the feeling that today could be a day I find the book that changes my life. That’s what will be hard to duplicate. And that’s what made Borders more than just a building with books.