Today is a big deadline for Borders — bids for its smaller stores are due, and Books-a-Million, of all places, has offered to snatch up a number of locations. Borders is a big corporation that in many ways got itself into its own mess, so it should be hard to muster much sympathy. To use an analogy from You’ve Got Mail, it has way more in common with Tom Hanks’ evil megachain Fox Books than Meg Ryan’s quaint, scrappy Shop around the Corner. Borders matched Starbucks in terms of cool, corporate calculation, with its ubiquitous burgundy signage, arctic indoor temperatures, less than ample (or comfortable) seating, and ambient Norah Jones tunes on endless loop.
So why do I feel like I’m losing a friend? For those of us who grew up in areas lacking in cute, indie bookshops, Borders was often the only reliable source of books for miles around. As a young kid, my weekly Friday trip to Borders was better than ice cream; I collected the entire pastel-colored Boxcar Children series, and when I was in fourth grade, I proudly asked the salespeople for recommendations at an eighth grade level.
In high school, the Parkway Pointe Borders — R.I.P.! — in the Atlanta suburbs became my bookstore of choice, and it proved a good substitute to hanging out at the mall to kill a few hours on lazy summer afternoons. For a teenager who didn’t get into much trouble (read: enormous nerd), finding hilarious descriptions in the erotica section and reading them aloud to friends was my idea of an uproarious good time. Of course, when I reached the age to get a summer job, my friend Allison and I confidently asked the salesperson at the information kiosk for applications. Under work experience, I probably wrote something like, “While I don’t have any prior work experience, I’m a voracious reader with a passion for books. Just to be in the presence of them for hours each day would be a privilege!” (Ugh, I was the worst.) Too bad jobs at Borders were hugely in demand, and you pretty much had to be a PhD in literature to get one — at least that’s what we told ourselves.
Even after moving to New York, where Barnes and Noble reigns supreme, I was still conditioned to see dark red when I thought books. My new home away from home became the mammoth Borders at Penn Station, where I spent so many hours reading magazines when I couldn’t afford to buy any and I was desperate to work at one. To see it clearing out is a little hard to bear. Although at the height of the liquidation sale, I pillaged the place alongside the other vultures.
So there’s my ode to Borders, a once great burgundy beast. What are some of your fondest memories?
Follow Stephan on Twitter: @stepephan