Borders Was More Than Books

Borders Was More Than Books

One of the first things I read when I checked my e-mail this morning was a "Fond Farewell" message from Borders CEO, Mike Edwards, confirming the closing of the Borders chain. Borders has been "igniting the love of reading" for more than 40 years, and I'm taking the news kind of hard.

One of the first things that came to mind after reading the e-mail was part of a verse from Kanye West's single "All of the Lights."


Restraining order, can't see my daughter/Her mother, brother, grandmother hate me in that order/Public visitation, we met at Borders

In his book, Decoded, Jay-Z talks about how a key to rap, and poetry in general, is getting the details right (a gift that Jay praised Notorious B.I.G on), and Kanye gets the details exactly right in those lyrics. Borders. That one word paints a picture worth 999 more.

A friend of mine regularly spends time with his three sons at Borders. His ex-wife has custody of their children and for a period, arranging opportunities to see them was difficult. Stealing away a few hours at Borders was sometimes all they could do. Last summer, I ran into him and his boys at a Borders and it was such an awesome thing to see them all with their books and magazines. His sons were excited about reading and about being there. It reminded me of when I was a little girl and me and my mom would walk to the library and check out stacks of books after my father left home and our electricity was eventually turned off due to non-payment. Those moments were more than about books; they were about inspiring creativity, a mother making a way out of no way, or just about getting to a destination with some lights!

When I think of Borders closing, we are not just losing a storage house for books. We are losing some of our communities' most vital meeting places. I remember brainstorming sessions at the Borders in Hyde Park...job searching at the one in Beverly...book signings out in Matteson. I even conducted an interview with a soul singer sitting on the floor in the children's section of the Hyde Park Borders! So many memories.

And of course, I bought A LOT of books. Buying books is one of the things I most enjoy doing, maybe even more than reading them. I understand times are changing and "digital" is the 'in' thing, but for me nothing compares to actually holding and owning books. Going to a physical location to buy them--and not ordering online--is part of the fun.

So, where will fathers go to see their sons, or mothers go to keep their daughters from crying in the dark now? I've been spending a lot of time at the Barnes and Noble on Jackson & State, but it's just not quite the same...

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  • Besides the issue about whether e-readers are going to supplant books (I don't feel like taking a computer in the bathroom or on a train), which Amazon and Barnes and Noble anticipated before Borders, it seemed like Borders was a corporate mess, with such things as having been owned at one time by K-Mart, and having been merged with Waldenbooks.

    BTW, I went to college with Gary Hoover, who essentially developed the concept, and then sold it to Barnes and Noble, which was essentially just a publisher at that time. He then went on to found Hoover's Information, but then sold that, and went into fundraising for that university. He didn't get money from me, but has a dorm named after himself. So, somebody made money, just not Borders.

  • In reply to jack:

    Very enlightening, Jack! Thank you so much for the feedback. I had no idea Borders was once affiliated with K-Mart (that explains A LOT!!). I agree with your "corporate mess" statement. At the end of the day people are STILL buying books (you should have seen the crowds during Christmas time) and Borders should have been able to save themselves.

  • Yeah a friend of mine got me an extremely powerful book from Borders a few months back. I really appreciate her for it. I have great memories there myself. Actually the last time I was there Me and J. Ivy got kicked out. The memories...lol They will be missed.

  • In reply to Precise:

    Ha!!! How dare they kick out two superstars?!! J. has Grammys, lol!

  • Remember when going to a bookstore meant going to a local independent book seller & not a mega-chain? Maybe the demise of Borders is a signal of the return of the independents … They still need to prosper, but they don’t have to turn such huge profits to satisfy management and shareholders to stay survive. What comes around goes around.

  • In reply to urbaneddie:

    Totally agree with you--I love all types of indie stores (books, music, clothing, grocery...) and I think the misconception is that people won't shop with the indie stores, or won't shop enough to sustain business. I know of a couple of indie booksellers in the Chicago, but the reason I don't typically shop with them is that they don't have what I'm looking for. Big chains ultimately mean bigger selection, and that's been their advantage. Smaller shops are more than happy to order, but then I have to wait. I guess I have to get used to waiting for what I want now, LOL. Thank you for reading and your feedback!

  • In reply to urbaneddie:

    Besides independents virtually disappearing (maybe except on 57th St.) at one time Kroch and Brentano was the Chicago bookstore, but is also gone.

    Maybe there is room for niche stores, but apparently Barbara's Bookstore as a female oriented market in Oak Park is closed, and Barbara has gone into the "books for less" business in The Glen and similar locations. Of course, the supposed "books for less" businesses such as Crown are gone, and Books A Million is not what it once was.

  • In reply to jack:

    I've noticied a couple of Barbara's around (I think there's one in Willis Tower and another on Adams?), so hopefully those can stay afloat. I just visited the Women & Children First bookstore in Andersonville for the first time and it's pretty cool. Post coming soon...

  • =/ I'll definitely miss Borders. I was hurt when I heard they would be closing their doors. I usually went to the one on 95th and the one near state and lake. I enjoyed your blog it was touching, and you're so right Borders has meant a lot to many people over the years and has served as a great meeting spot for people of all walks of life. I'm not sure if i'm just emotional today or not but your story about you going there as a kid and your friend with the 3 sons meeting at Borders got me a little teary eyed. Whatever the cause, it was touching. That's real life out here for people. ...And no Barnes & Nobles is not the same.

  • Awww, thanks NQRD! Sorry to almost make a sistah cry, but I'm glad it touched you. I think if the big corporate execs had an opportunity to be touched by more examples like that, maybe they would think a little more carefully before closing down businesses in our communities. But, I guess this gives me a chance to start checking out some of the few indie stores left around the city. Oh, and hit up Borders going out of business sale to stock up!!

  • I'll admit going to the "dark side." I have a B&N nook and I absolutely adore it! However, during a recent trip to Lincoln Square, I found The Book Cellar (an independent store), Rock & Roll Vintage (vinyl records & books - my friend bought Dante's Inferno there!) and a used book store (which I couldn't find the name of) that is packed from floor to ceiling and aisles just big enough to barely get through. I didn't buy anything, but I enjoyed the experience.

    The Book Cellar is partnering with Google to sell ebooks. Hopefully that will keep them going.

  • In reply to siblingless:

    Ha! Probably at some point we'll all tip toe over to the dard side, lol. Thanks so much for sharing about your experience at The Book Cellar. I've never heard of it, but is now on my to-do list of stores to check out. I went to Women & Children First bookstore earlier this week and walked out with some really good stuff.

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