The Borders bookstore store near my home is in the process of closing its doors to business. This fact has been glaring me in the face for weeks, but I have been trying to ignore it, even though it has been hard to do. I am a Borders Rewards program member, thus I receive emails announcing the percentage off of all items that week as they liquidate their inventory. I also see signs on the side of the road announcing the store closing and the latest discount. It might be financially smart to rush in to the store and grab up all of the books and music I want to buy at a discounted rate, but I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s just too sad.
I am what I might describe as a bookstore gnome. Since I was a teenager, my friends and I have enjoyed meeting at Borders, or Barnes and Noble, to browse the books, and sit in the café with a cup of coffee and talk. When I need some time to myself, but want to get out of the house, I may go there on my own and browse around for an hour or so. The atmosphere of the big bookstore with café is appealing to me because there are books and magazines around to pique my interest, and also plenty of room to grab a chair and chat with friends without a time limit, other then when the store closes. A bookstore is different than a library because you don’t have to be absolutely silent, as it is more of a social gathering place. Plus, I can get a latte while I am there.
I also have some special memories tied to the Borders that is now closing. My cousin’s husband once played guitar and sang there during a special store event. I was just a middle school kid then, but I remember going to Borders to hear him sing. Another fond memory is from high school, when a friend who worked there helped to organize an “open mike night” complete with an upright base player to add to the mix. I like to travel, and before each trip I take I would make a pilgrimage to Borders to browse the travel book section, which I regarded as much better than Barnes and Noble. I can also attest that many of my family members and friends have gotten birthday and Christmas gifts from me that came from Borders.
Since the closing of my local Borders has started, I have definitely noticed an increase in the amount of people at Barnes and Noble, which is only about a mile down the road. While the store has added more seating to accommodate the increase in customers, this past week my friend and I found ourselves at an open table, but with only one chair. I can’t help thinking that it’s a bit unfair that Barnes and Noble is obviously profiting from the demise of Borders, which is a Michigan based company.
Now, I know it is not the fault of Barnes and Noble that Borders is closing its doors. The advent of Amazon and e-books I am sure have caused the brunt of the trauma. I have seen over the years how that particular Borders when from a bustling place, to practically dead except during the Christmas shopping season. There was a time when my friend and I stopped going there too, after a number of experiences where while we were sitting in the café, sipping our purchased drinks, and obviously having a conversation and the employees started dragging chairs across the tile floor and stacking tables, when there was at least 30 minutes until close. It made us feel very uncomfortable, and unwelcome. After we had the same experience a few more times, we switch to exclusively going to Barnes and Noble. So, even with the big, bad, Internet booksellers taking their chunk of business from Borders, maybe a little of the damage was self-inflicted.
This week I saw a photo on Twitter that was taken of a sign on the door of a different Borders store that is also closing its doors soon. The sign said “No restrooms. Try Amazon.” It is a funny, but bitter dig by the employees of that Borders, and is (I am assuming) aimed at the people that are undoubtedly swarming the store to snatch up and last minute deals. People who maybe have not set foot in Borders for years.
This brings up a question in my mind: What do you lose in exchange saving a few bucks on Amazon? I typically do not shop on Amazon. I have a friend who will routinely tell me how I can get whatever book it is I want cheaper online, but I just don’t want to purchase it that way. It’s not that I am not frugal. Trust me, I am the clearance rack Queen. (I once got a Polo Ralph Lauren sweater for less than thirty dollars at Macy’s.) I just believe in doing business in a way that supports my lifestyle or values.
I enjoy spending my time at Borders and Barnes and Noble, and while I don’t always purchase a book every time I am there, when I do want that travel book, or the latest novel by a favorite writer of mine, I will purchase it there. I believe my purchase supports the store that provides me the relatively quiet and comfortable space to enjoy coffee with a friend. I often walk into a store, or bank to pay my bill, rather than do it online. I just feel like it gives that company all the more reason to hold onto that cashier’s job.
I really do love to read, and it can be a house cluttering and an expensive habit to have. I typically read more than one book at a time. I always have a book with me, in my purse or car, and it comes in very handy when waiting idly at the Secretary of State office, or doctor’s waiting room. I have not made the leap to an e-reader device; despite the rave review I have had from friends who own them. For one, value the experience of browsing shelves of books, and two, I am clumsy and am afraid of breaking it.
My advice as an alternative to non-local Amazon is to try a used bookstore. Used bookstores often offer a great value, and very interesting selection. One of my favorite used bookstores is in Mt. Pleasant. I always make time for a trip there if I am in the area. Plus, you can often swap books or resell them when you are done, helping easy the clutter.
The next cheapest alternative to a used bookstore is a resale shop. I have gotten paperback books for less than a dollar at the St. Vincent DePaul, and Open Door Resale stores in Waterford. While you probably will not find a brand new book there, I have found some of my favorite authors, and some classics such as Black Beauty. When you are done with them, you can just donate them back.
Finally, the cheapest option (if your are mindful of due dates) is of course the library. I find it a little harder to “browse” in a library, as it’s not as easily set up into sections like a traditional bookstore may be. However, if I know specifically what I want, I can hone in quickly. New releases might be a problem here as well, because everybody wants them, and you may have to wait a few weeks on a list in order to get it. I find the library to be my favorite place to get audio books, because I know those will not have the same sentimental value a paper book might have, and I probably won’t want to keep it at home on a shelf to reread later. The one real issue I have with library books is that I have to be more careful with them, because they belong to the whole city, and not just me. I tend to be hard on books, since I carry them everywhere.
Last night I had dinner at a restaurant that was near the Borders that is closing. I drove by the store and took a peek in the windows on my way home. I did not linger and gape at the emptied place that generated so many memories for me. I can help feeling that I am part of shrinking group of people who still hold traditional books and bookstores dear, lost to e-readers and Amazon. Maybe I am just a bit too sentimental.