The Borders bookstore chain ruled the bookstore landscape for a while but went bankrupt last year. I must say, though, that I wasn’t that sad when the local one closed its doors. In the beginning, I loved that store. It had a nice café on the second floor and on my Fridays off, I could stop there after dropping the kids off at school, have a cup of coffee, maybe a brownie, and browse books. But then they changed their opening hours to 10:00 a.m. Gone was that treat. Then it slowly became the local hangout for teenagers. One time I went it to look for a travel guide and couldn’t even enter the nook with the travel books as I found myself facing five teenagers, their backpacks and down jackets all over the place. Having to excuse myself for wanting to look for a book in a bookstore felt rather awkward, and it was equally unpleasant to have the store manager busy shoo-shooing those who clearly weren’t there to buy something out of the store.
An unpleasant shopping experience makes you not go to a store anymore. This might just be the local experience and have little to do with the overall demise of Borders but it also shows how, with the best intentions, a store can fail. Luckily, our local mainstays, Powells, 57th Street Books, and the Seminary Co-op bookstores are still around, and interestingly, they are of the independent kind that supposedly is endangered. They are, however, much farther from where I live, and so I’ve been thinking about what it means not to have a bookstore around the corner. A friend recently remarked how pathetic it was that we don’t have a big bookstore downtown Chicago anymore, but then again, we didn’t before the big Borders moved in, so we shall live.
For me it just means life is back to before Borders. There is amazon, and amazon to me is the real advantage in 21st Century book life. I love researching and buying books at amazon, and I use their “save for later” cart function as my virtual “to read” list. Plus I can buy books in France or Germany if I want to.
But I also love stopping at my favorite bookstore, which these days is the Barnes & Noble in Valparaiso, Indiana. It’s got that big store feel, a great selection of nonfiction and memoir, and I always get my favorite British magazine there. And there is something to browsing in a bookstore, just like there is something to reading an actual newspaper. Looking through shelves or turning over pages makes you notice things you otherwise wouldn’t, and that a Search function wouldn’t find, because you don’t even know you’re looking for it. So most often, the whole family leaves that store with more than we were looking for.