Saturday, December 24, 2011

RIP Borders 2011

Yesterday, I was rushing around trying to find my last 2 Christmas presents.   I walked in Kohls, and the place was swarming with shoppers grabbing things off the shelf in a feeding frenzy, staring at a pair of Batman slippers with a panicky look in their eyes.....Will this work for Jimmy???  I know that feeling.  All I want to do is buy a calendar, and I can't figure out where to get one.  I always used to buy my kids calendars at Borders, and Borders is no longer.  They didn't have any books I wanted to buy, but they had tons of calendars in the end. 

I went back out to the car and looked up at the empty hulk of the Borders store next to Kohls.   This version of Borders was a last gasp retail setup trying to lure customers with it's modern layout.   I hated it - I could never find whatever book I was looking for.   I can remember shopping at the original Borders - it was a tourist destination in Ann Arbor, where it was founded.  The cool part of going there was they stocked any book you wanted.   It was known for it's unique inventory system, which involved an index card that was stuffed in the back cover of your book and removed when you bought it.  Sort of like a library card.   The staff at the original store were all bookish types, and that, combined with the card, always left me feeling like I was in a library.  But instead of checking books out, I'd be at the checkout counter, buying a hundred dollars worth of books before I even knew what was happening.   Ever since I was a library aide back in 1975 at Rinke Elementary School and at St. Sylvester's Church library, I have always loved libraries.   I adore the smell of books, and walking through "the stacks".  As a kid, I found the Dewey Decimal System comforting.  There was a place for everythying, and everything had a place.   I could walk into any library and know exactly what aisle I needed to go to find what I wanted without glancing at the card catalog.  Despite being told otherwise, I did judge a book by it's cover.   Looking back on things, I probably should have been a librarian.   So I had to be very careful when I went into the original Border's store, or I would spend too much money before I realized that the lady with the graying hair pinned up in a Gibson girl type bun and cat eye glasses behind the counter wasn't actually a librarian, she was a cash register clerk,  Still, I'd feel proud of myself when she complimented me on my astute book selection.   The clerks all  knew their books.

But then, Borders grew and they lost that "library feeling" - they started carrying more stuff, like calendars, and less books.  And they started employing people that didn't love books like I loved books.    I found myself not going there any more.   Given my book hoarding tendencies, I have learned never to buy a book retail unless I have read it first.  If I am not careful, I find myself buying books I already own.     I might buy a book at a book sale or at a garage sale without reading it first.   For example, last weekend, I picked up Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" at the Ann Arbor Kiwanis sale for 50 cents.   It was a pure impulse buy - I would have been disappointed had I paid list price for it because it took me about 45 minutes to read.  That works out to less than a penny a minute...well worth what I spent.   Out of it fluttered a receipt from Borders - the book was bought for $11.00 exactly a year earlier - from the "flagship" store on E. Liberty.   I can remember when that space was Jacobsens, a defunct Michigan based department store.  Maybe the spot has a bad juju?    I thought of the person that bought the book last Christmas - did they know that Borders was going to go under a few short weeks later when they bought it?  Was it a Christmas gift?   I finished reading that book quickly and moved on to another book I had on my shelf - I wanted to reread Ruth Reichl.   I pulled down a garage sale copy of "Tender at the Bone" and still stuck to the back was a Border's price tag - $13.00.  Like Borders itself, Reichl's book is full of memories of how Ann Arbor used to be.   She went to college at U of M in the late 60s before she became famous and a large part of the book is a love letter to a more funky, earthy Ann Arbor than we have today.  

I wonder how many books on my shelf came from Borders originally?  Looking at my bookshelf, apparently there was a lot.  Evidently, I own 2 copies of "Tender at the Bone" - both with Borders tags on them.  I'll give one to my sister for Christmas.    I was a sucker for their remaindered book bins, where I'd find books I didn't know I needed until I found them sitting there waiting for me on clearance.   Did I buy them there, or did I find them at a tag sale?  Don't know, but they started their lives at Borders.    I remember I started a book club that still soldiers on without me 16 years later that used to meet at Borders on Liberty.  They'd give us a discount on the book we'd select, and a free beverage in the cafe.  I wonder where my old book group meets now?   I still have books on my shelf from that book club that I haven't yet read, all with Borders price tags still affixed.

So, where to get a calendar today on Christmas Eve?   There is no Borders left, and Barnes and Noble is way on the other side of town.   Why did Barnes and Noble stay in business, but not Borders?  They are both essentially the same kind of store.   If I go into B&N, it will be a soul killing experience for sure.   There will be a bunch of people there trying to buy a last minute Kindle or Nook or whatever their e-reader is called.   I just don't understand the allure of the e-reader.    But I am pretty sure there will be people lined up holding one in one hand and a credit card in the otherand staring at it blankly....Do you think Mom will like this???? 

On second thought, I better go elsewhere for my son's calendar. Wonder if the library is open today?


lmw said...

I found myself nodding vigorously while reading your post. I definitely miss Borders too. However, may I recommend Nicola's in Westgate? Their calendar selection is extensive and their clerks are whizzes at recognizing a book from the vaguest of descriptions

Kate said...

Nicola's Books has calendars. Thankfully Borders demise has meant an uptick in business for the last non-specialty local bookstore.

Tracy's Living Cookbook said...

I enjoyed reading your post very much. I am also very sentimental about certain books, well... all books really. Love them new. Love them used.

TeacherPatti said...

This is beautiful. It makes me sad that Borders grew so quickly and got so greedy so as to destroy a wonderful thing. The original founders, the brothers, have moved on to other things and, publicly at least, gave the impression of giving not a fuck about the dissolution. (Privately, I don't know how they felt but they sure didn't speak out publicly).

Vivienne said...

You can add me to the list of "original Borders mourners". Like you, I always ended up buying books I didn't go in to look for. Somehow their displays and the really brilliant selections by the staff made books jump off the shelf into my pile at the cash register.

Of course, it was Joe Gable, the manager, who really gave soul to the store. I don't think the brothers ever really had that much sentimental attachment.

Liza in Ann Arbor said...

I also just read "Tender at the Bone", not knowing at all the Ann Arbor connection. It was excellent! (And I got mine used as well). I reluctantly split my book/calendar shopping between Barnes and Noble and Nicola's. What's one to do?