A changed, once-sacred space

{Working at Borders, 2006}

My local bookstore just reopened. After losing our Borders last summer, we were without a local hang-out until Books-A-Million took over the former space. We rejoiced! I vowed to actually put my money where my typing is and shop there. (Despite the fact that I buy basically everything online, I’ve tried hard to purchase books only in “real” stores. Corporate or no.)

And then something weird happened.

Despite working for a newspaper, I can be surprisingly slow to learn local news — but the store closed again. Temporarily, I heard. It was something with the roof? A leak? I don’t know. Anyway, it closed for weeks. Seeing the chaos through the plate-glass windows and the dark exterior sign was pretty depressing, honestly. It was PTSD — Borders-style.

But the light shone again. We popped in Tuesday for the first time since BAM! re-opened. I bought Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl because you crazies have been talking about it everywhere, and I can’t stand being out of the In Club. Also, I read 14 pages in what felt like one breath, so.

While waiting for my mother and boyfriend to finish making their rounds of all the usual genres, I found myself . . . lingering. By the displays. Having worked at Borders for years in college, I’m drawn to the familiar fixtures. When BAM! purchased Borders’ old space, the shelves and signage seemed to come with it. Though Spence bought many of Borders’ bookcases for his place, I guess they replaced them? Because the store looks exactly the same.

Entering is always a time-warp. One minute I’m Megan, intrepid 27-year-old columnist, and the next I’m Megan, 21-year-old English major shamelessly draining her bank account on paperbacks with her employee discount. I used to love coming to work — seriously. As much as anyone can love working retail and dealing with the general public, I adored that place. I made so many friends there — people I still think about, people I still miss. The regular customers morphed from strangers to acquaintances, and then to chatty pals. I knew their spouses, their children. Their favorite authors. The way they liked their coffee. By the time I left in 2008, I knew most of their names — and they knew mine.

There was a warmth, a camaraderie. A sense that you were somewhere people met and mingled. Where ideas happened.

It was a really happy place. And time.

Part of my attachment to that job is undoubtedly due to it coinciding with a particular era of my life. I will never again be a freshly-christened college graduate. I will never be 21, or 22, or 23. It will never again be 2006, John Mayer’s just-released “Continuum” on repeat through our faulty speaker system. I will never again feel that untarnished, undecided — and free.

Most days, that’s okay. Good, even. But other times, it stings. Like peroxide. Like salt. Sometimes I want to cry, thinking about that former life — a time when that bookstore was just about my world.

On Tuesday night, the store was deserted. Booksellers milled about with piles of bargain books in their arms, rearranging displays and looking vacantly at their watches. The café was empty save one family in a corner, most of them thumbing away at iPhones. Spencer and I grabbed seats at a rickety table and read for a bit, but it was strange to be in a silent place that was once so teeming with life — one that now sits quiet, neglected. When I worked at Borders, we couldn’t get people out of the café. During holiday hours? We’d have fools camped out until midnight, nursing a single stale cup of coffee from hours before, walled in by stacks of unclaimed books.

Is this how it feels to desperately love something everyone else has abandoned?

The bookseller in me couldn’t help but neaten the displays, aligning edges and straightening stacks. Grabbing books that were tossed aside, patiently walking them back to their proper sections. Spencer once asked me why I do that — “You’re not getting a paycheck anymore” — but I just smiled, shrugged.

“I like it,” I said, and it was true.

Earning a paycheck hadn’t felt like earning a paycheck. It didn’t feel like work.

And I really miss it. More than I ever thought I could.

15 thoughts on “A changed, once-sacred space

  1. It is sad when what was once a thriving community is abandoned. I’m sure it didn’t help that they were open, the closed, then open, then closed, then open again. Nobody probably knows what the heck is going on. It is poignant when you think about the saying “you can never go back”. Knowing how that feels years later, I always try to live in the moment and love what is happening now, because I know it will never be the same. Especially when it comes to the kids!


  2. I have a BAM! pretty close to me in DC and it’s just not the same as Borders. There’s usually a crowd but people don’t linger. It’s not that ‘third space’ for people like Borders seemed to be. It’s sort of sad…


  3. “Is this how it feels to desperately love something everyone else has abandoned?” That is both sad and beautiful. And, yes, it is hard to reflect on a time of life that was so carefree and know that, too, is gone. You capture it so perfectly.


  4. I miss the days when going to my local bookstore ( all we had was a barnes and noble) and mill around for hours and discover new books and authors. Sure, Amazon is cheaper than most books stores, but it’s not the same.

    Hopefully people will start going to Books-a-Million soon!


  5. I have those same feelings about a greeting card store I managed in a small town where I knew and was known by all the little old ladies as “Annie’s daughter-in-law”, only once in a while did Lynda actually drip from their smiles. I loved that job and most all that went with it.


  6. I miss working retail sometimes for similar reasons. It’s pretty dreadful at times, but there is also an energy to it that I enjoy.

    glad you have your bookstore back!


  7. I’m a pt bookseller at b&n, and it’s a dream job,the only thing better would owning my own bookstore. We are a team, we all like each other and I’ve been there @ 14 months now. Our regular customers are like family too, they chat, we talk about books we like etc. I hope your new BAM will pick up, maybe it is confusion over open or closed etc. There is nothing like a bookstore, I read all kinds of formats, but there is nothing like going in, touching books, browsing, etc. For years this was the store I shopped and drank coffee…it’s a pleasure to work in now!!
    As others have said…time marches on..so enjoy each moment as it occurs. Happy Weekend!


  8. My favorite bookstore was a hole in the wall sort of place, where I first began to buy first editions and such. So saddened when it closed. I actually fell in love with BN for a time, but the one in my city seems to be more toy store than bookstore now. Ever noticed that?


  9. Honestly, ever since the local Borders closed (and the other 5 closet ones) I have only purchased books from local bookstores. Aside from the fact that I love picking up a book, I seldom leave without purchasing something. I used to be a big fan of Amazon, but seeing bookstores disappear was just to painful to watch. I will gladly pay the extra $5-10 and take my home book TODAY and go home happy knowing I might have possibly helped keep this place in business 🙂


  10. I could have written this post – I completely agree! One of my the bookstores shut down temporarily and I was so upset. Thankfully, they were just moving down the street and I had missed that little detail 🙂 I also have a pact with myself not to enter the bookstore unless I am within budget. Else, it’s CHAOS.


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