There's a death in my family. If family is defined as those to whom you are linked by a special bond, with whom you spend a lot of time, on whom you lavish money, whose mistakes you mutter about, and whose triumphs you cheer, then Borders Books is part of my family.
I grew up in a home that didn't have much money, but there was always money for books. My mother would scrimp on the groceries so that she could stop and buy books. In the eighth grade my Sunday School teacher asked us to list all of the magazines and newspapers we got at our homes - and to note which ones were Catholic (he had a point to this exercise), and I got to 30 publications we regularly received, with about 10 of them Catholic. Of course this was something like three times as many as any of the other kids' lists. We had Newsweek, Life, Popular Mechanics, Our Sunday Visitor, Good Housekeeping, Mad Magazine, Ranger Rick, and on and on. My parents were voracious readers. My father had to drop out of high school after he ran away from an abusive home, and he had educated himself in a variety of fields. When I was in the fourth grade, I walked around with him at the school's open house, and he was able to engage the various teachers in informed conversation about their areas of interest. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to be able to talk to people that way. We had science fiction novels, biographies, histories, short story collections, books about science and mechanics, art books, etc. My mother loved history, politics, and theology, and she read widely in those fields.
When I moved to Ann Arbor in the early 1980s and discovered the marvelous place called "Borders Books" on State Street, I thought I had found heaven on earth. That store had a couple of levels, narrow aisles, high stacks needing step stools. When I got my first job at the University, making $5 an hour, any cash I had left over after rent, utilities, groceries, and savings, got spent at Borders. I would save up for specific books, and I would haunt the sales tables. Once, a supervisor gave all of the secretaries in my office large bonuses at Christmas. I spent most of that bonus at Borders. That was during the early part of the expansion era when the company turned its focus from being a place to find really cool books to buying large chunks of real estate. The company stopped being my favorite haunt in the odd space near a college campus and started being a big chain. I remember holding my breath and hoping that it would work.
When a department store went out of business a couple of blocks away from the original location and the flagship store moved there and suddenly looked more like a department store, it was lovely having the wide aisles and the easier wayfinding. The computerized catalog was terrific; the fact that I no longer had to check my bag at the door was nice (but I worried about shoplifters). Then, a few years ago, the business started going bad. The changes in the store were subtle at first, but there seemed to be greater and greater emphasis on bestsellers and less emphasis on interesting finds. A friend's husband lost his job a year and a half ago during a downsizing; a neighbor of mine (we are fellow cat moms in the condo complex) still works for the company and has had health issues for months.
Last evening, I took my last coupon into the store and discovered that Maeve Binchy has a new novel out (long-time readers of this blog will know that MB is just about my favorite writer). I also got a short story collection by Susan Vreeland. Then, I shuffled out of there, sad, lonely, knowing that I had just made perhaps a final visit to a dying friend. This friend had provided birthday and Christmas presents over the years - when my nieces and nephews were young, I would go in on an evening and carefully select books for each of them; more recently I bought gift cards there for the kids. For nearly 30 years I have indulged the love of books that I learned in my home. Now, it's time to say good-bye, and I feel as though a part of me is dying. Bye-bye Borders. I miss you already.