Today was not a good day. I made my last purchase at Borders, well, Borders.com, using up the balance on a gift card my girlfriend gave me.
As I navigated their unwieldy website, I couldn’t help but remember my first times at the store, and how regretful I am at its closing.
[Cue Corny Flashback Music]
I remember shopping at the Borders in the White Flint Mall in Rockville. You took an escalator to the second floor, which deposited you right on the shop floor. When I was a kid, that escalator ride felt magical. I was a nerd, and I liked reading. Plus, my mom was particularly indulgent when it came to books. Any book I wanted I could get. They were always the same young adult paperbacks, George Selden, E.B. White, Jerry Spinelli, that sort of thing, but to me each one was a discovery. I remember waking up before school to read The Egypt Game in bed, feeling at peace paging through the paperback’s pulpy newness. I may have been uninterested in the books on my school’s curriculum, but the books I bought at the Borders I carted around like treasure.
Soon, I migrated out of the young adult stacks to literature, and by seventh grade I got involved with the Russians. I probably read more Dostoevsky than was healthy at that age, or any age. This led me to a community college class in Russian, just one of the many eccentric moments of my middle school career.
Sure, I shopped at other bookstores. But Borders didn’t have the moldy smell of Second Story Books in Rockville, and wasn’t always deserted like the Waldenbooks. Not to mention Barnes and Noble, and the armed guards they hire to hassle patrons—or the large Nook kiosk they ironically set up at their entrances.
I remember my aunt taking me to the Borders in Farmington Hills on my birthday and buying me all sorts of classics that she said I had to read immediately in order to be considered educated. I never did, but the Herodotus did look pretty nice on my bookshelf.
Of course, by college I had moved on, and was more interested in college bookstores than anything chain. Only when my mom moved to Ann Arbor a few years ago did I really start to reconsider Borders. Located in the center of town on State Street, “Store #1” felt like the beating heart of a book-hungry town. Where else but Ann Arbor would book vendors set up in the middle of the night on East Liberty to hawk paperbacks? Sure, you could notice signs of decay, but why look? I wasn’t buying as many books, but I did try to spend a few hours there every time I visited home.
I know Borders is no mom and pop, and for most people, it was another link of a chain of strip malls stretching across America, but for me it remains meaningful. There just aren’t enough bookstores in the world for me to feel anything but displeasure when one closes. And I can’t help but think that shutting down those kinds of places where ideas thrive is a harbinger of bad things to come.