My Borders isn’t closing, but I still feel sad

The summer before my senior year of college, I left my internship at a D.C. newspaper and looked for part-time work in my hometown. The natural choice was Borders, a place where I could get paid (paid!) to talk about books all day. The salary was decent; the staff seemed friendly. The lovely aroma of fresh coffee immediately permeated my pores and gave me the extra jolt I was seeking. Both a refuge and solid employment, my gig at Borders seemed like the perfect opportunity.

And it was. The only reason Borders wasn’t my first job ever was due to the 18-and-over employment policy. When I applied for jobs fresh out of high school, I was a 17-year-old kid who wanted spending cash. Getting to work at Borders came three years later and, excited beyond words, I started my part-time shifts with the idea that I would work there until I graduated from college and had to seek out full-time, career-related employment.

Well, I got a full-time job. In 2007, I was hired as an assistant editor at the newspaper where I still work and write. But when the time came to break ties with Borders, offering myself fully to the paper that was my “big girl job,” I just couldn’t do it. The idea of leaving the bookstore was unfathomable.

Most of the time, I loved the people. Even when they were rude and terrible and ignorant. Even when they sought a book with no description other than “it’s blue” or “it’s written by a famous person.” The jolt I received when I actually could find that book — that crazy, elusive, damn-near-impossible book — was a high unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I loved giving recommendations and receiving them from others, watching with understanding as customers’ eyes lit up when describing a favorite read. It felt like magic.

If I thought I knew lots about reading before, working at Borders opened up a whole new world for me. Authors previously undiscovered now littered my shelves, their tomes procured with the awesome employee discount. On the nights I would go straight from my 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. full-time gig at the paper to the store, staying until 11 p.m. or later, I discovered the lovely aroma of coffee and chai tea. I made great friends at Borders, all of us united through our “in the trenches” mentality.

More than anything, I just looked forward to being there. The smell of fresh books, stripped open from heavy palates, was intoxicating. I loved store events like our midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when I hosted a party for more than 1,000 people and worked until 4 a.m. I loved chatting with other readers and feeding off our mutual love of literature. I met a boyfriend there. Ran into countless friends there.

In our town, which has no other bookstore, Borders is the epicenter of life.

I didn’t want to leave. When I visit the store now and see many familiar faces — you know, minus the whole “you don’t have a bun in the oven, do you?” debacle — I feel a jolt of sadness and whimsy for life back at the bookstore. After receiving a great promotion at the paper, I finally quit my part-time job there in October 2008. I visit often and still feel like, if called upon, I could hop behind the information desk or man a register without trouble. It’s just the sort of job that sticks with you.

On Feb. 16, Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced they would be closing 200 stores (click for full list of store closings). When my dad emailed me that spreadsheet, my stomach dipped down to my shoes. The idea of Borders — our Borders, the site of countless dates and late nights and chats and coffee runs — closing was hideous. It actually made me feel sick.

I’m happy to say, friends, that our Borders in Southern Maryland is safe.

But so many others aren’t.

I understand why this happened. Countless articles have come out about why the chain, once so prominent, is teetering on the edge of extinction. The recession; the rise of e-books; the abundance of cheap books online; Borders failing to keep up with market trends. All of these things make sense. They suck, yes, but they make sense.

But what I can’t understand is a town without a bookstore. If our Borders in Waldorf, Md., had closed, we would be without any book retailer in three counties. There are no independent bookshops peddling anything more than old, dusty paperbacks, and there’s only so much you can find at Target or Wal-Mart. Friends, without a Borders, we would have been book destitute.

And I would have been devastated.

Though we’re out of the red zone, I feel terrible for the cities that are losing their Borders locations — and the employees who are suddenly out of work. I feel bad, too, for the publishers and distributors and authors who are still trying to make a living in a tough business during a tough recession — and how Borders’ closings are affecting them.

I feel sad for the couples who can’t meet at Borders for coffee on a first date or the families who covet their time at the store paging through the children’s section. And who hasn’t spent a lazy Sunday wandering around the store’s bookcases, admiring recent releases and feeling the weight of a hardcover in their hands?

Is everything with the chain sunshine and roses? No, of course not. Sometimes customer service sucks, and I get that. But it doesn’t make me love Borders any less.

I’m hugging my own store a little closer these days. And if yours dodged the bankruptcy bullet, I hope you will, too.


29 thoughts on “My Borders isn’t closing, but I still feel sad

  1. A lovely tribute, Meg. Borders may be a chain retailer, but for you and many others it’s an old friend. I checked to see whether our local store in South Portland is closing and I didn’t find it on the list. Either my eyesight is bad or it too has been spared. I hope so.

    • At one point in time, it was a learning tool prop — a way to teach us the ins and outs of the BINC! I stumbled across is when first working at Borders and everyone at the store posed with it from time to time.

      And I’ll keep an eye out for Janelle and send good vibes your way. šŸ™‚

  2. Glad yours isn’t closing, and I’m glad mine isn’t, too! Even though my city has more than one bookstore, I would still be devastated if our Borders closed. It’s my favorite bookstore and, like you, I simply love being in it.

  3. I think I’m probably the only book blogger out there who ISN’T upset about this whole Borders thing. Borders isn’t very popular in SA because it’s very overpriced and unorganized. It’s the sort of store that people only go to if they can’t find what they’re looking for anywhere else, or if they have a good coupon. I was surprised to find they aren’t closing any down here, honestly. They don’t seem to get a lot of business compared to other bookstores.

    I often wonder what it would be like to live in an area where Borders is actually a good and useful store. It sounds like your experiences have been much better than mine!!

    • I’m with you, Amanda. If the only bookstore in town is closing, that’s one thing. I find that terribly depressing, so I am happy, Meg, that yours is not closing, especially since it sounds like it is indeed a useful, community bookstore. It’s an awful shame for a town to have NO bookstore.

      However, besides the sympathy I obviously have for the employees who are going to be out of a job, I don’t have much for the company. Borders over-extended themselves. I hope this diminishes some of the monopoly in the bookselling world and allows for smaller, local booksellers to get their start (unless, of course, B&N swoops in!!). But I think I’m a little jaded because I live in NYC, home of the indie bookstore, and I’ve forgotten what it’s like when the only place to get books is Borders or B&N…

  4. Okay, now I’m understanding a little why people are so upset/freaking out about Borders being in trouble and closing stores.

    My local Borders (which is one of the ones closing, actually), is the reason why I never go near the stores — it was always extremely disorganized and cluttered, the people were rude, and I could never actually find anything I was after – even if their ‘catalog check’ showed it as in-stock and available. I haven’t been to a Borders in 5 years or better … my bookstore lover is Barnes & Noble, which is quite a hike from my current location. (It’s a county away, in the crazy part of the mini-metropolis). But your Borders experience? Now that sounds like a good bookstore … I wish there were actually one of those in my area. You know, easy to get to šŸ˜‰

  5. I just had my rant over at Rebecca’s this morning. There is Borders about two miles from me that is closing, and now there isn’t one anywhere near me. Our one and only indie closed last year. I guess that leaves Barnes & Noble. When I go home to IN to see my parents, I always hang at their Borders, which is right in the middle of a large university, and that one is closing. I don’t understand. I do my best to support these people, but I know it isn’t enough. Very sad day.

  6. All we had was a Borders Express and we lost that the last go round, I’m sad to say. We’re lucky to have 3 other big box retailers, plus 1 indie in our immediate area, plus others a little farther away. I’m still saddened by all the Borders closing. I’m sad when any bookstore closes.

  7. I think it’s terribly sad and I’m so glad you’re not on the list, but I think it was something that has been coming.

    My hope/prediction is that while we will see an increase in the chains closing we will over time see an increase in smaller independent stores opening.

  8. Thanks for this post… I loved the reminiscing (even though I wasn’t there, LOL). I’m very sad that we are losing our local Borders. In fact, we’re losing 3 of the 4 in the Orlando area.. fortunately we’ll have that fourth one, but the one I’ve been frequenting lately, sitting in the cafe to do work, etc. will be gone and I am devastated!!

  9. The closest Borders to me isn’t closing…which I’m happy for, though, I don’t go there very often anymore. Once in awhile I’d stop in after shopping at the mall across the street…or if I have a gift card/coupon and I don’t mind taking the half hour drive. Over the years I’ve noticed a definite decline there, between customer service, not being able to find books I want, the prices, etc. so I mainly rely on the public library and Amazon (especially now, with my Kindle). I do enjoy the cafe. There’s something pretty special about picking out a few selections, buying them and wandering over to the cafe for a coffee and some uninterrupted me time…if my Borders closed, I’d truly miss that aspect.

  10. I worked post-college at a Barnes & Noble, and I have the exact same feelings about my bookseller experience that you do. I found it hard to leave until I was absolutely forced to because of my full-time job.

    Both my local Borders are closing – in Bowie and Largo – as well as the remaining DC Borders, and I’m unbelieveably sad about it. I used to be very loyal to B&N, but not anymore. A bookstore is a community, and I’m sad for those communities that are losing their Borders.

  11. I’m glad your Borders isn’t closing! Having a bookstore in town is so, so important. We have two in Madison, and I figured that at least one of them would be close. Unfortunately they are closing the one that I go to most often, which makes me sad.

  12. It’s definitely been a depressing week with all of these Borders closing. I feel lucky I live in a city (NYC) where I don’t have any trouble finding a bookshop, but it makes me wonder if that will change quicker than I think. I’m glad you still have your Borders and thanks for sharing what it meant to you to work there.

  13. I was sad to learn this news too, particularly for the towns that don’t have book stores nearby. I know many articles are saying that this is a boon for independent book stores and if it is then that’s great but is it so bad to have options? I’m a girl that likes lots of bookstores! Luckily my local Borders is safe too and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this sweet tribute.

  14. Ms Brown you went OUT OF YOUR WAY to help me find stuff in your store on two occasions…..Glad that the Waldorf store is staying in service…..Good stores really are about the employees……Don’t try to figure out who Iam,waste of time,just saying thanks to you and the store ….appreciate both ….happy customer

  15. I LOVE Borders! It’s my first go-to choice. I checked your list and whew, my store is safe. I’m not a coffee drinker, but walking into a bookstore and getting of whiff of that just is comforting somehow.

  16. my borders is closing and i am really sad i dont like b and n at all and im turning 18 next month and the day i did i was going to apply to work at my borders. I am very very sad about all of this and the closest borders besides mine is an hour away and it is also closing

  17. I am in a state of depression over the loss of Borders. Thank God the only Borders (1) location in NC staying open is near where I live. Everyone I know loves Borders more than B&N for chain bookstores. I practically lived in Borders in my 20s decade (2000-2010), the height of its regime; I studied, worked, chilled, conversed, meditated, people-watched, connected and discovered so much there. I used to joke “No one can find me because I’m hidden away somewhere in some bookstore”. In the current economy, I fear what else will be taken away from people? The majority of counties, countless cities and towns have no bookstore whatsoever, and that is very sad.

  18. It’s interesting because we literally have no Borders near me…several Barnes and Noble, but no Borders…so this really hasn’t affected me. However, I can definitely put myself in others’ shoes when I think about if it had been my BN. I can’t even tell you where an indie bookstore in my town is. It’s BN or nothing. Hoping somehow that something good can come of this.

  19. I’ve been reading through these articles recently and surprised that no one has mentioned Fahrenheit 451.

    We are now a good 80% there. Bibliophiles, buy some aged alcohol, hide your books, and drink and cry as the firemen come to burn your books to ashes.

    Still, it is unimaginably sad what is happening to Borders, I personally don’t agree with e-books, it is like Itunes, people can buy songs, but they may not read them, maybe a few pages, but that is the same as listening to a song one time. At least a bookshelf looks nice. Plus, in an instantly you can lose everything, all it takes it for someone to push a few of the wrong buttons, and boom, 20 books are out the window.

  20. I enjoyed reading this post. I personally gave up on Borders a long time ago, but I rediscovered the chain recently when they started making their prices a little more competitive. I recently noticed that Borders Rewards discounts even apply to a lot of e-books (non-agency titles), which is not the case at Barnes & Noble. With the latest round of closings, every single Borders I have ever lived near is either closed or closing. Even the Borders I stopped at during my two Hawaii vacations is closing. The Borders near my parents and good friends are closing. It’s sad, and it makes me wonder why Borders didn’t find a way to be more competitive. It let its stores become messy — downright dirty in some cases — and disorganized, and this was the worst thing it could do as a business competing with companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. My local Barnes and Noble recently closed as well, by the way.

  21. Ironically, this is my favorite post (although I’ve been following you for months now) because I feel the same about Starbucks!!! It’s hard to describe an attachment to a place like that — especially since it’s part of the “corporate” world — but somehow the people (both behind the counter with you and the ones on the other side that you serve) become embedded in your soul. I still dream about steaming milk — the high I’d get when I connected with someone, through mutual interests or finding the perfect drink for them — and greeting my regulars, anticipating their moves.

    Although it was only a part-time college job, and I never planned to stay there forever, no job since has stuck with me the way it has. I mourned the closing of some of the stores, and celebrated when I learned “my” store was safe, even though I now live eight hours away!

    Kudos to you for such a lovely description of that feeling!

  22. I wasn’t a big Borders fan until recently. I was raised on frequent visits to Barnes and Noble, but my boyfriend introduced me to the wonders of Borders when we started dating. Whenever I was swamped with homework, we would walk down to Borders and get some coffee (hot chocolate for him) and after some browsing, I would settle down and work. Whether I was reading or writing, there was something calming and comfortable about the Borders environment that I will miss. Borders has that special ambiance that a lot of bookstores are losing. It makes me really sad that so many of the stores are closing. I’m happy that you are going to be keeping yours.

  23. Oh Meg! I loved this post! Since I was ten or eleven it’s been my dream to work at a Borders and have never been able to. I go to Borders almost everyday just to browse even if I’m not buying anything. I’ve worked at a college bookstore and then a small shop for awhile but I still have this dream of working in a Borders someday. When my boss told me about the bankruptcy last week (he was overjoyed because his bitter self never got over them not selling his awful books) I was so sad, and quickly learned that the location at my favorite mall was closing. I was so angry that he was cackling like a lunatic I think I snapped at him. I’m so jealous you got to work there and that you have fond memories of it šŸ™‚

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