Tuesday, August 23, 2011

'Bye-'Bye, Borders

I'm sitting on a chair at a tiny table in the entryway of the Greenwood, Indiana Borders because this is the only seat left in the place. I feel as though I'm in the scene from You've Got Mail where the Shop Around the Corner is going out of business.

I know. I know. That little privately-owned children's bookstore had fallen victim to the big, bad chain store. My sympathies are with the small neighborhood shops, but since I've never lived near such a spot, except in my writer's vivid imagination, I am feeling sentimental about Borders' closings. Many pleasant, bookish, coffee-scented memories revolve around Borders--so many, in fact, I can almost forget Borders is a super chain. Or was.

My history with Borders goes back nearly a decade. My younger daughter, Dawna, introduced me to the joys that awaited just through those heavy red double doors. Before she went to South Korea to teach for a year, before she met and married a man from Nepal, before she had wee ones we would head for Borders, arriving around noon and staying until they ran us out so they could lock up for the night. Since that was pre-knee-surgery, she'd ask me what I wanted to look at. I'd dictate my wish list, and, while she went off to gather what she could, I'd order some scrumptious coffee and a sweet treat or an asiago-and-spinach-filled soft pretzel, warmed, of course. She'd return with a stack of books and magazines about writing, quilting, the arts, poetry, cooking, and literature. Once my nest was made, she'd go seeking after her own interests--arts, crafts, international cooking, travel, Chris Van Allsburg books (she's an illustrator and loves his work), and other miscellany. Then here she would come with a stack so high she could barely carry it, let alone see over it. And we'd stay for nine or ten hours, camping out while reading, sharing, drinking coffee, watching people, writing, and drinking more coffee.

When she married, we continued our Borders visits. Since her husband worked nights, we didn't have to hurry home. And of course, I never could leave without a few purchases. I suppose we should have paid rent on the table, too.

Sometimes I didn't read; I just wrote and wrote for those hours. It was at Borders that I discovered the guilty pleasure of writing in Moleskine notebooks such as the one I'm using to pen these words. From their eye-pleasing pale green paper and thin lines to the natural cardboard covers and their sewn construction I love them.

Dawna continued to be my Borders companion, even as the children came along--one, two, three--though the visits became shorter of necessity and less frequent. Now, just as the children are reaching an age when they enjoy browsing and finding a cozy corner to peruse a good book, Borders closes those magical red doors.

Don't hit me with the old line, "It's not personal. It's business." While I'm quoting You've Got Mail, I may as well add, "It's personal to a lot of people." I don't want to get into a conversation about the economy. Nor do I want to discuss the things I didn't like about Borders. I just want to bid the chain adieu. Something will come along to take its place. Hopefully.

The table I rest my elbows on is for sale for $75. The two chairs, $50 each. They're sturdy. Everything is for sale. Every bookcase, display rack, coffeemaker, counter, shelf ladder, and peg board hook. Every rug and every mug. From my vantage spot, I watch the constant flow of customers entering empty handed and leaving with bags full of bargains. Those shoppers, what are their memories, I wonder. Are they the least bit sentimental about the passing of this icon? Are you?

Because of Christ,


  1. I grieve with you, Sharon. Last Tuesday, we took our 4-year-old granddaughter to the Castleton Square Borders on the NE side of Indy and the finality of Borders' demise hit me in the solar plexis. All the chairs and benches had been sold. The coffee shop had been dismantled and its fixtures were being sold. The restrooms were closed (no staff to maintain them, I suppose).

    In that respect, the only staff I saw were unpacking boxes of books from Borders warehouses hither and yon, stacking them on shelves that heralded close-out prices of 30%, 50%, or even 70% off. The only thing the store had to offer in its death throes were bargains. As the clerk told a fellow in front of me at the cash register, "If you can't afford it today, come back next week. We'll mark it down farther."

    Today, I saw a news report that the Books-A-Million bookstore chain is failing fast, too. Although BAM was not my favorite store (because it has always been bargain-driven), I admit that I felt another twinge of sorrow at that news as well.

    Sociologists tell us that bookstores had become the "third place" of American life -- a "home away from home" and an "office away from the office," where we could sit, think, browse, and dream without the pressures of daily obligations. Those places are disappearing now. I hope they don't disappear entirely!

    In an era of electronic publishing and deep discounting, our books are getting cheaper. But must the quality of our lives be discounted along with them?

  2. Hoosierwriter, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one mourning Borders' passing. And, though I never shopped at Books-a-Million (I've never seen one), I hate to see them flounder, also. I wonder how Half-Price Books is faring.

    If, on the other hand, this would mean that places like Shop Around the Corner could have a resurgance, that would be wonderful. I would love to find such a place that offered good coffe and teas, along with quaint tables and chairs to boot. I could be their resident eccentric writer.

    Write on!