Monday, July 18, 2011

Requiem for a bookstore

I had my second post on changes I'd like to make to the Golden Heart and Ritas all ready to go, but then I heard that Borders is closing.

I've seen this coming for awhile. Borders never seemed to get the hang of how to survive in a world where physical stores and merchandise were less and less important for book and music buyers. I haven't been a regular Borders shopper in years. Amazon is my go-to book source, and if I'm craving a trip to a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I've got a Barnes & Noble five minutes from my house. In fact, if my mother-in-law didn't have a habit of including Borders gift cards among our stocking stuffers, I doubt I would've darkened the doors of one of their stores in the past decade.

But the news still saddened me. You see, I remember the first time I stepped inside a Borders, the one near Rittenhouse Square in Center City Philadelphia, back in 1994 or so. I thought I'd died and gone to bookworm heaven. Back then--and I feel like an old-timer talking about what it was like when she traveled everywhere by horse and buggy--I found new books to read by walking through libraries and bookstores, picking them up, and looking at their back covers and first few pages. Amazon was just a gleam in Jeff Bezos' eyes. While there were a few places to talk books and discover new authors on Usenet (oh yes, I was on Usenet back then), there wasn't the plethora of reader blogs I search for recommendations nowadays. There was no Goodreads, no LibraryThing. If it wasn't in the tiny selection at my local branch library or my mall's Waldenbooks or B. Dalton, I had almost no way of knowing it existed.

So Borders was a revelation. That bookstore was easily ten times the size of a mall store. It must've had as much shelf space for each individual genre as those mall stores had for romance, science fiction and fantasy, mystery, and so on combined. I found more books in the world waiting for me to read than I ever would've dreamed possible. There was nothing I loved more to do on a Saturday than bike into Center City from where I lived in West Philly and spend hours upon hours there.

So ave atque vale, Borders. Thanks for giving me so many wonderful hours and introducing me to so many favorite books in the 90's. And to those 11,000 employees who'll be laid off, my hopes and prayers that you'll land on your feet and find work where you can thrive.

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