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Monday, July 18, 2011

Goodbye, Borders

I just read that Borders, which has been circling the drain for about a year, will begin liquidating as early as the end of this week. I find myself really sad about this.

It's awful that nearly 11,000 people will lose their jobs. No question, that sucks, and I feel awful for those folks and their families. But I'm the most sad about the end of an era, if I can be corny for a sec. I felt the same way when a few local movie theaters closed - they were the first theaters I got dropped off at, the first places I started feeling grown-up, and now they're a bank and a drugstore. Same with Tower Records.

Growing up in Philly, there was a Borders in my section of the city. (It's been closed for some months now; the space remains vacant.) It was a hangout spot. You could go, drink coffee, read books and magazines without buying them (except for the time I spilled coffee all over Oprah Book Club Selection Songs in Ordinary Time and had to buy it, which is one of the few books I put down without finishing. Too much rambling, not enough goings-on), and no one paid you any mind. You could spend an entire afternoon in there for the price of a snack. If you were wandering around the avenue, bored, you'd end up at Borders. Kept you out of trouble - what's more wholesome than spending an afternoon at a bookstore?

When I was 16, I had a huge crush on a boy a couple of years older than I who worked in the cafe of my local Borders. He used to flirt with me and give me free coffee and whatnot. My crush on him took up the whole summer. One day I noticed him, and then I went back and gaped at him from behind a book, and then I went back and actually got up the nerve to talk to him (which I cheerfully reported to my friends), and then he started flirting back and giving me coffee and having actual conversations with me ... it was SO sixteen and silly and cute. My friends would sometimes come with me to check him out and we'd have powwows in the bathroom: "He IS cute! And he totally smiled at you!" "I know! And he always gives me a bigger size coffee than I asked for!" Borders has all those memories for me. (The boy is in his 30s now and is one degree of separation from me on Facebook, although we're not connected.)

Leaving aside my adolescent memories ... dammit, I just love being surrounded by books. I always have. I am one of the few people I know who regularly uses the public library. I don't have a Kindle. The dream home I have designed in my fantasies has a library, with built-in floor-to-ceiling bookcases. And Borders has (had) more of a library feel than Barnes and Noble. It felt homier, more personal. Barnes and Noble screams "Big Business" in a way that Borders didn't.

Part of me wonders if Barnes and Noble is to follow. Does it make sense, from a financial standpoint, to pay rent on an enormous retail space when people are turning to Amazon more and more? (Myself included - I love books, but I'm also cheap. Undergrad and b-school texts in particular - I bought all my b-school texts online or from students who were looking to unload them.) And a part of me also wonders if this is all cyclical: if Barnes and Noble falls, will we see the return of small local 'round-the-way bookstores? I'd welcome that, but I'll really miss Borders.

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