Thursday, February 24, 2011

RIP Borders-Bloomington

Bookstore from the Movie You've got Mail

When the most recent national news about Borders came out last week, I shared a moment of sadness with folks in those Borders communities. You see, the Bloomington Borders closed right after the holidays this year. We have already gone through the bookstore closing that is to come for over 200 communities around the country.

When Borders came to town about 10 years ago, I was pretty upset about it. They opened their large store just a few doors down from our own independent bookstore called Morgenstern’s which had only been open for a few years. Before Morgenstern’s, we had only IU-based bookstores and teeny-tiny (quaint but small) Howard’s that indulged bibliophiles like my husband and me. We loved to slip into Morgenstern’s on evening dates and roam the aisles reading book jackets and talking about authors and ideas. Once we spent an evening in the children’s section talking about our favorite young adult books.

But Borders came to town, and it was at least three times the size of Morgenstern’s and it had a big ol’ coffee shop and a huge music section. Morgenstern’s did not stay open much past winter that year. That’s the way the free market works.

So it surprised me that I got all weepy over this big corporate store finally closing its doors as well. I had grown used to stopping by on Friday nights after my family and I went out for dinner. My husband would get his coffee and roam the stacks, my son would hit the kids’ section, and I would be over in fiction, or at the sale tables, or travel, or reference—whatever was on my mind that night.

Once the closing was announced, my husband stopped going. He said it was just like watching vultures circling a dead carcass on the road. People stopped in to get deals, so books and CDs flew off the shelves by the carload. Once cases were emptied, books and media would be consolidated and empty cases and racks would be sold. While my husband couldn’t go back in, I couldn’t stay away. Once a week I stopped in, yes to look for books and get deals, but more importantly, it seemed an appropriate way to say farewell to a place where I found great comfort.

Some people find solace in nature, others in churches or in the presence of God, but I have always found comfort in books. No matter what the problem or the mood or the weather, a fully stocked bookstore is what I picture heaven to be: rows and rows of bright colored books—some new, some classics, all stacked high and wide on big wooden shelves. Each book is filled with ideas and stories and poetry, written by dead white men or celebrities or new young authors. There is room for everyone and every idea at the bookstore.

So yes, I went in frequently during those last months of Borders and watched the vultures circling the carcass. I felt sad when shelves were stripped bare, and there were no more tables in the café, and when all that was left was overstocked books , kitten calendars, and coffee beans by the pound. I looked for bargains myself –how can you not buy books that are 4 for $1? (I guess that makes me a vulture too) and generally felt bad about the whole book industry.

It seems odd to me that a solitary activity like reading can maintain a community feel to it. I went to Borders to look for books, but I always chatted with friends and sipped coffee. I made recommendations to anyone looking confused over a selection; I bought books on special weekends recognizing educators or local schools. I sat in the café with members of my writing group while I composed columns and short stories.

So you can see that one mourns many different losses in the closing of a community bookstore: ideas, authors, poetry, community, conversation and comfort zones. I’d imagine patrons of those stores in those places will also circle the carcass for a few months, hauling off treasures and shelving to house them in. We are lucky here in Bloomington, as we still have another large bookstore we can physically enter because turning to Amazon for book needs, or purchasing instantly downloadable e-books is just not the same as mingling among the stacks and chatting with neighbors about ideas and stories. Viva the bookstore!

--Amy for the Poplar Grove Muse

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