Jul 25, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Borders

My spot.I’m trying to find the words to explain how important Borders was to me as a Midwestern, suburban kid with no indie bookstore and an uncooperative library.

Before Borders, my books came from one of a few different sources. They were gifts, they were treasures found at antique malls, or they were chosen from one of the two or three shelves–shelves, not cases, since I hit literary adolescence before YA became the darling genre of readers everywhere–that were allotted to intermediate readers in the back of the cramped Walden Books at the mall.

My book choices were limited.

When I walked in to Borders for the first time, it was like I was being allowed in to the Beast’s library. I knew that there must be that many books in the world, but I had never seen them all together. I felt the weight of those millions words and thousands of books and felt a small sense of panic that I would never be able to read them all.

I had work to do.

I found my way to the YA section, which was now a full book case, front and back. There were almost too many choices. There was a spinning rack of Penguin Classics, and I spent a year or two picking my way through that. I couldn’t believe my luck. My family would go after dinner and stay until close, and I could buy a hot chocolate and spend hours browsing. Borders saw all the money I made babysitting, and all of my birthday presents came in the form of Borders gift cards.

On special occasions, on my birthday or when my family would visit Chicago to see the Christmas lights, we would visit the big Borders on Michigan Avenue. There were four floors of books. Let me say this again. There were four stories of books. You needed to take a series of escalator rides in order to see all the books. Do you understand how many books there were? Do you understand the impression this made on my young mind? That store was my idea of heaven. A mecca I planned birthdays around.

Sometime in early high school, I promoted myself from YA to Literature. It was around that time I found my spot. Since the books are all alphabetical by author, I found a place towards the end of the alphabet so I could work my way through the As and Bs and so on, looking for something to take home. It was directly across from the literary anthologies and short stories, so I could flip through those if it was going to be a short visit. The books that served as my backrest were always changing, but Nicholas Sparks was always on the shelf to my right. I thought it was important to keep him close so I could make faces at him when I felt the need. (I developed good taste at a young age.) I would find a book and settle in to my corner until the five-minutes-to-close warning.

When I spent a year at home between high school and college, Borders was the place I could go that would make me feel like I wasn’t in a rut. When I graduated from college and moved back home, I went right back to my old Borders. I wrote my first blog post there. I built this little website there. I made friends with some of the other cafe regulars, and flirted enough free coffee out of the baristas to explain the store’s financial crisis. When I got my job and moved away, I visited my new Borders when I needed someplace that felt like home.

I went home to say goodbye to my Borders this weekend. I was hoping to get there before the liquidators did, but I was too late. The cafe was closed and all the tables were piled in the corner. The Paperchase section was picked over and there was a line to the cash register that stretched to the back of the store and around the empty music section. I was overwhelmed. I was a little bit angry that people seemed to be enjoying themselves. I wasn’t really sure what an appropriate goodbye would be, so I just did the same thing I always do: I took a quick walk through the Literature section, nodded at the anthologies, pulled out a book, and read until it was time to go home.

Thank you Borders, and I’ll miss you.


1 Comment

  • I didn’t have the same kind of young Borders experience as you (I haunted city and school libraries instead), but I had a shadow of that same feeling when my Borders closed earlier this year. It was always a place of wonder and possibility, a kind of retreat with delicious surprises everywhere. Every time I drive past it I feel a pang. But I like to picture you scowling at the Nicholas Sparks books. It makes me feel better.

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