Our local Borders Bookstore is closing this spring; it’s one of several hundred closing their doors in the aftermath of the company’s Chapter 11 filing last week. Wasting no time, the store emailed its customers Friday, announcing a big gooing-out-of-business sale, and last night we stopped by as we have so many times in the 15 years or so the store has been there.
For us—my husband and our now-grown children, the Borders in Deerfield, Illinois was our favorite Saturday night haunt for many years. Our children went from buying board books and pre-readers to devouring the works of R.L. Stine, Madeline L’Engle and C.S. Lewis.
My children knew that while toys were always limited by our good graces and the proximity of birthday and other gift-giving days, the book budget knew no bounds. I believe that’s why we usually heard, “Are we going to Borders Saturday night?” instead of “Can we go to Toys “R” Us?” So, the Deerfield Borders holds for us many memories, the latest of which was to see my own book sitting on its TV/Film section shelves.
Venturing into the store last night, I flashed on the 1998 Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan movie You’ve Got Mail. In the movie, Meg Ryan’s character is the owner of an small independent bookstore in New York. Her business is threatened and then devoured by the newly opened big corporate bookstore down the street. The new store slowly eats away at the indie’s business, luring customers away with discount pricing, cozy chairs and fresh brewed coffee.
There’s an irony—perhaps even a sort of poetic justice—in the fact that like Meg Ryan’s little bookshop, Borders also got swallowed up by a bigger and more powerful fish (and by its own shortsightedness). So goes the food chain. Even more ironic is that the local independent bookseller, The Book Bin, still sails beneath the radar—still in business—just a couple miles down the road.
For me, however, the echoes of You’ve Got Mail aren’t in the Big Fish-Bigger Fish parallels, but in the mood I sensed last night—in what was probably our last trip to the Deerfield Borders. The store was crowded and baskets were full of books and CDs, although the store was only offering at 20% off retail price for all but a few things—nothing really you couldn’t get cheaper through Amazon.com.
Perhaps they felt a loyalty to the store and its book mavens, or maybe it was guilt. How many of those piling stacks of books down at the cash register had years ago switched to Kindles, Nooks and iPads for their reading matter? How many now purchased the bulk of their print versions at Amazon.com?
On the other hand, Borders had abandoned its patrons as well. The music department, one that would have rivaled any stand-alone record store, once boasted bins of obscure world music, jazz and folk music. You could literally spend hours browsing before selecting three or four CDs. But over the years it had been pared down to a mere shadow of its former self. Book shelves, too, once holding the best sellers alongside the more niche and lesser-known works, gave way to big names and current best sellers. What had started as a slightly bigger sister of the grand independent bookstore tradition had over the years lost increasingly bigger pieces of its soul.
Even so, hanging around the store last night, I felt a strong sense of prevailing doom and sadness. And like the scene in that movie where her bookstore at last closes, succumbing to the corporate giant down the street, visiting Borders last night felt like attending the bedside of a dying and aged aunt—the one you’d wished you visited more often in the past few years, but hadn’t the time. The conversations were hushed, the store’s shelves were half empty, the bathrooms showing more wear than they should have—and too much garbage strewn about. Moribund is an apt description.