Slipping into the bookstore


I love getting lost in a bookstore.

Okay, so I don’t really get “lost.” That would require me not really knowing the lay of the land, so to speak, and goodness knows I have plenty of experience wandering among the stacks.

The truth is that, like so many, I’ve started relying on alternate sources for my literature fix. Reviewing books frequently means novels arrive in packages and boxes, mailers and envelopes. I go to the library. I shop online. And, of course, there’s the whole issue of digital books — those electronic ones that pop up in a digital library with the swipe of a finger. My Kindle doesn’t get as much love as my physical books, but I do enjoy having lots of options at once in the palm of my hand.

I can’t quit bookstores, though. When our local Borders closed in 2011, I went into a period of mourning. The local bookstore was more than just a place that sold books, of course: it was a community hub, a hotspot, a place for friends to meet and mingle. In its heyday, Borders buzzed with people and music and life, pure and simple . . . and yes, they sold books. Lots of them. But books, though important, sometimes seemed beside the point.

After Borders liquidated and closed that summer, Spencer drove over to purchase some of the bookshelves which currently take up a quarter of the living room in our apartment (but that’s totally worth it). Word spread that Books-a-Million was planning to purchase and re-open our location in Southern Maryland, rumors that proved true a year ago. When I first popped into the store last summer, I felt anxious that a place I’d loved so well — and spent years as both employee and patron — would be forever changed. You can’t go home again, you know?

But maybe you can. I just re-read my post from last summer, one spilling over with sadness and uncertainty. When BAM! first opened, it didn’t feel like “my bookstore” anymore. The exterior was the same, yes, and the interior resembles the old Borders as well. But it obviously wasn’t Borders, and that hurt. I was deeply emotionally attached to the old place and just couldn’t. let. go.

Life marches forward, though. Much has changed in a year. As I get closer to the wedding and am prepping to move both my personal belongings and offices at work (more change.), I’m growing accustomed to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s one of my single greatest challenges: adapting. Allowing something new to enter my life without mourning deeply for the old.

I’m getting stronger. I’m getting excited.

I went into Books-a-Million with my parents for the first time in a while last Friday. Where once the store seemed quiet, empty, there were plenty of people padding down the aisles with stacks of books in their hands. We waited in line at the register. It wasn’t as crazy as the old days, sure — but what is? There was a John Mayer playing overhead as soon as we walked in, just like those fall days in 2006, and I thought about the college student who once wandered the same aisles with the latest Harry Potter and a walkie-talkie clipped to her hip. Life was an oyster, and I’m busy finding the pearl.

Seven years later, I still love getting lost in a bookstore — and was thinking about how fortunate I am to be able to slip inside the same bookstore where I spent so many happy days.

Things have changed, but some things stay the same.

And I definitely came home with a book.

Just in time for Black Friday: a new bookstore

After lamenting the closing of Borders, our beloved bookstore and the only new book retailer in the tri-county area, rumors began circulating that several chain locations were being purchased by Books-A-Million. While Borders was undergoing bankruptcy proceedings this past summer, BAM made a bid for 30 locations — but were rejected. As our local store liquidated and closed its doors, we drove somberly past the shell of what was once our favorite hang-out. Our bookstore was gone.

But exciting news reached us in October: BAM had, in fact, purchased Borders’ old spot in town. They would be opening again with new inventory. Even without the shelves once holding countless paperbacks and hardcovers, we would have a literary depository again.

And they were right. Over the last month we’ve seen trucks arriving and crews unloading palettes of boxes — a daunting task I remember from my own bookseller days. Friends, family and coworkers all chatted excitedly about how we really were getting a new store, and speculation ran rampant over whether or not they would open in time for the holidays.

The folks at BAM obviously aren’t fools. Not opening before Black Friday and the onslaught of the Christmas shopping season would be a huge financial risk, so it was with great excitement — great excitement — that Spencer and I wandered in last week.

It was a soft opening, I guess; BAM flung open its doors without any fanfare. A small banner on the exterior announced the place was “Now Open,” and that — plus the dozens of cars in the parking lot — was the only thing alerting us to its opening. It was actually really strange walking in again . . . little remodeling was done, leaving the former Borders location mostly intact. The paint and carpet are the same. Even the book genres are located in mostly the same spots, including the children’s and fiction sections — and that was cool, but definitely weird.

After all my sadness and disappointment over losing Borders, it was like my store had been resurrected from the dead. And trust me — I’m totally not complaining. Walking in felt like coming home. But it was a little strange, too, to be in a Borders that wasn’t a Borders.

It’s going to take me a really long time to call it “Books-A-Million,” which is sort of a mouthful. Though I feel silly calling it BAM!

While I’m sorting out my feelings about all that, though, I’ll be off shopping. And just in time for Black Friday.