Last week, I decided to make a trip to Borders and pay my final respects. Actually, I wanted to see if all the publicized horror stories reported in the papers were true: That a trip to Borders was like watching a ghost town appear right before your eyes, that the remaining employees were zombies with the customer service helpfulness sucked right out of them, that the sad sales floor resembled a pool of piranha circling in anticipation of the last 75% sign to go up.
I have to report that none of the above were true.
Certainly, my local, favorite Borders in Birmingham is the upscale, flagship store. Two stories, brick and glass, roomy, it had a kick-ass coffee bar and lots of comfortable chairs. Although southeastern Michigan suffers in this bad economy (and suffers, and suffers some more), the stores and the people of Birmingham have yet to get the memo on the recession. The Birmingham Borders has always teemed with customers, the parking lot just as full in the middle of July as it is during the Christmas rush, when I’ve witnessed car wars for spots and the resultant fender-bending crashes.
Borders was stuffed full of customers the other day when I went to bid farewell.
Okay. I know. I don’t need more books. With a “To Read” list towering over me, threatening to topple and break my leg, what I really need is time to finish reading everything I have set out to read. I entered Borders with the sole intent of taking a short trip around both floors and maybe scoring a few pretty notebooks for my purse.
Somehow, I got caught up in a mood. Not a sober mood, but a celebratory mood. I wasn’t sure if I should feel embarrassed, or if I should join in. Have you ever been to a funeral service where people are laughing and having a good time? You want to remember the good times, but you also want to maintain an air of somber respect.
This was the Birmingham Borders last week.
So the coffee bar was shut down. So the books were pulled into the center of the store and the store fixtures stacked on top of each other. So the computer screens were dimmed. You’d never know a fire sale was going on in the face of impending bankruptcy. I’d never seen so many families with young children poring over books. So many older couples holding hands, their baskets full of books. Even the single shoppers like me were picking up the books, running our hands over the spines, checking out the covers and blurbs. (I myself prefer a physical book over the electronic kind, as I find reading from the page easier on my eyes.) Perhaps our rapture was over the discounts (at 20 – 40%, not exactly deep), or maybe it was because we all loved the books.
Which led me to wonder, especially in a high-revenue store like the one in Birmingham – WHAD HAPPENED??? At one time, a big-box company like Borders was going to eat up all the small booksellers. Independent book sellers, while a staple in trendy places like New York City or San Francisco, are like finding the proverbial hen’s tooth in metro Detroit.
It was only a few months ago that Borders (based in Ann Arbor) announced they would be moving to downtown Detroit as a cost-cutting measure. That announcement brought hope – something like the hope before chemo. Now all we have is the wake before the burial.
As for me, I came away with more than a few pretty journals. I bought several classic books I had wanted to re-read but didn’t have in my library. I bought some 2012 calendars, hoping that next year will be better for book sellers, authors and readers. I bought some light, trashy romance novels. I figured I needed a happy ending where girl gets guy and both ride off into the sunset.
Then I went home and tried to figure out where the nearest Barnes and Noble is, and prayed for their continued existence in the modern world.