Friday, February 18, 2011

My History With Borders

The big news in publishing this week was that Borders Books & Music have officially filed for Chapter 11. There has been some pretty great commentary about what this means, and in addition to the general business coverage at PW and GalleyCat, I would recommend reading posts by Eric at Pimp My Novel and by Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. We all knew bankruptcy was coming for Borders. We've all watched the news, heard the reports, and yet when the list of just how many stores were going to close was released, it was no less shocking and sad.

The thing is, it is very hard for me to feel bad for a large corporation, and one of my first thoughts about Borders' situation was that maybe my fake sequel You've Got Mail wasn't as fictional or far into the future as I thought. I don't like chains of any kind and avoid them whenever possible. I'm also guilty of not buying books from Borders in years because I live in a city where I have other options. I realize this is not always the case for people, so for that reason I am sad to see an outlet for buying books slowly disappear.

That said, Borders' suffering still fills me with incredibly sympathy because, to me, Borders didn't always represent "ah! chains! evil!" They were actually my first experience with really loving a bookstore. I grew up in central New York, which is a pretty economically depressed area of upstate NY. When I was younger, we had a Walden Books (before it was owned by Borders) in our local mall, followed by a B. Dalton, which no longer exists (but it's where I bought pretty much all of my Babysitter's Club books). There were a few indie stores that came and went, but other than that we were left with absolutely no bookstore. And I grew up in a city! It was horrifying, especially for a kid who liked to read. I remember visiting family in northern Virginia and we walked by a Barnes & Noble. My mom and I both practically shrieked with glee and demanded we go in to look around. The uncle we were visiting looked at us with equal parts confusion and pity before my mother explained that "we've been without a bookstore for years." It was like we found an oasis in the desert. We could read again!

Borders existed forty-five minutes away in Syracuse, so we didn't get to go there very often. It was, and still is (I hope), in Carousel Mall, which is the greatest mall ever if you are a teenager in upstate NY. Even though it was a short drive away, we used to treat going there as if it were a glamorous day trip, and we'd always park in the lot near Borders so that we entered and exited through the bookstore. Borders was the first place I encountered a Young Adult section, which makes me sound a lot older than I am, but YA didn't really exist then to the extent it does now. As soon as we walked into the store, I rode the escalator upstairs and parked myself in front of books written for me until my parents were finished doing whatever it is they did.

My hometown got a Barnes & Noble at the tail end of my high school career, so I never got to fully experience the joys of having a bookstore so close to home. But then Borders came back into my life in college. I worked there as a barista and got all the free coffee and discounted books my heart could desire. (Borders, by the way, is also directly responsible for my current coffee snobbery and obsession, having gone through intensive training courtesy of the Starbucks Corporation, who own Seattle's Best.) Even the management at Borders were full of book people. Intellectuals who hand sold books and engaged with customers and were genuinely happy to be surrounded by books. It wasn't just some retail job for us. Granted, we were living in a very liberal college town, but this is still the mentality I associate with all Borders, which makes it very hard for me to write them off as just another greedy corporation. They've just always been there for me, even when I haven't been there for them.

Even though Borders and I broke up due to my own morals, they still hold a place in my heart and I will always think of them fondly. I even return to them from time to time. This long personal history has made me wonder what bookstores you all have grown attached to, whether corporate or otherwise. Do you feel a personal attachment to a bookstore? If they're still open for business, please share details so we can experience them too some time.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone :)

13 comments:

  1. In my hometown, Borders is the only bookstore in three counties -- and, though a large chain, it's always felt like "my" bookstore. I visited constantly as a teenager and, over the years, our Borders became a community outpost. I worked there for years in college, relishing in the experience, and never wanted to quit.

    Our Borders isn't on the chopping block yet, I'm so relieved to say, but I feel terribly sad about any bookstores closing -- especially Borders. For many people without an indie or other retailer within miles, it's a terrible loss -- as you perfectly understand! I can't imagine a town without a bookstore. It seriously scares me.

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  2. Valerie Norris2/18/11, 11:09 AM

    I would have missed out on SO many books if not for the large cbains. Grew up in a town with a tiny library, miles from any bookstores. The first time I went to a bookstore I was 18 or 19, and on a date. I love almost any bookstore. (Wandered into a few sci-fi or New Age bookstores and wandered back out, bookless.) It's sad when any bookstore closes.

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  3. I miss Bookstop. It was bought out by Barnes and Noble in the nineties and it was never the same. My family tended to shop at B&N even after they purchased Bookstop because of the location and the staff. We also shopped at a wonderful indie used book store that never could quite keep its head above water. They primarily focused on Romance but had enough YA, scifi and classics to keep me interested.

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  4. Um, I LOVE that sequel idea. I told it to a coworker who, being a burly construction employee, didn't quite appreciate it. But SCREW THEM.

    I moved into an area where a B&N is 5 minutes away. I consider myself supremely blessed. B&N has always been my bookstore of choice. I guess I just like the logo? That or I'm a creature of habit.

    The Borders in my local mall got scrapped recently. Sad. I bought books there about 1/2 the time I visited the mall.

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  5. Borders was the bookstore my older children fell in love with when they were little. The store by us had a wonderful children's section.

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  6. Third Place Books is my favorite indie in the Seattle area, but it's 40 minutes away from me. We have a Borders in our mall, which is not on the closing list. They do a good job providing lots of tables for groups, big chairs to read, and the coffee area always has people in it. There is often a line, and many people browsing the shelves.

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  7. I only buy books from Powell's, either at the City of Books in downtown Portland, the one closer to my house in Beaverton, or through their website. It's such an amazing independent store that I recommend to anyone visiting Portland, Oregon. Also notable that they started selling e-books long before the kindle came out.

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  8. I like all bookstores, including used book stores, but I like the chains too. For now, the Borders near me (15 minutes) is still open, and I hope it stays open. I go there a lot.

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  9. Chester County Book Store in West Chester, PA is the best indie book store. Incredible staff. New Orleans cafe attached. Enormous childrens' wing. Hometown feel. Perfection in a book store.

    But I also love our local B & N too...

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  10. I used to work in a used bookstore, and that one still has my heart. It doesn't have a ton of new releases, but I still like to check there first when I go out. I love it there!

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  11. I used to buy Babysitters Club books from B.Dalton too! Even though it is corporate, I have grown very attached to our local Barnes and Noble. There's just something so cool about walking into a building with that many books.

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  12. I always buried myself in the Astronomy section of Blackwell's Bookshop in Cambridge. I wouldn't always be reading astronomy books either. I'd browse, and find the books I wanted and then go and hide in the little wood-lined nook where the astronomy books lived.

    Stateside, I loved sitting, reading or writing in Pittsburgh's East Liberty Borders until it just closed. I felt like a vulture picking up cheap books in the "everything-must-go" sale. I didn't mind the discount, but the entire atmosphere was heavy-hearted like the departure curb by an airport.

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  13. I used to love going to Half Price Books when I lived in Austin. There were several all over the city, and I could usually find anything I needed there. I actually applied for a job at every one of them when I moved to town. I didn't get hired, but I still came and shopped. Book People was another great indie store in Austin. Unfortunately, not only is LA lacking in indie stores (The Iliad and Skylight are notable exceptions) but no less than four nearby Borders are closing, including my fave at a mall where I used to work. I'm really going to miss my Borders...

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