I attended a wake yesterday. I was just one of many; the mortuary was crowded. The corpse was laid out for all to see. But there was no eulogy, no flowers, no whiskey, and no music. There was, however, plenty of plunder as the corpse was stripped.
I refer to my local Borders store. Just two days after its closing was announced, people with sandwich boards were standing on street corners with signs saying ‘Everything must go!’ The parking lot was full. The store had feeling of rush and bustle and the checkout line was an hour long. No one seemed sad about it, just pleased to get 20% off on the books, and 40% off on other items.
I’ve heard people say that it was a nice neighborhood gathering place. The same was said about our travel store that just closed after 125 years—the owner said they could not stay in business as merely a showroom or gathering place. Neither could Borders, neither can any store. They are keeping the Borders on the other side of town, but it will focus heavily on toys and puzzles and such. Behold the new phenomenon: a bookstore that doesn’t feature books!
At the local level, you don’t see the corporate decisions or other things that can sink a franchise, you only see a familiar friend that’s deserting you. Already the vultures are circling for the building. Among the contestants for it are a dental clinic, and a medical building. It’s a loss for me—I don’t like to hang out in either of those types of buildings unless I have to.
So as I took my turn and waited in line, all my bookstore experiences flashed before my eyes, like a drowning man. Like many writers, my memories of bookstores are long, meaningful, and many. As a child, I loved the bookstore/school supply store downtown (when all such stores were downtown). It was called Denison’s, and therein were books and all the new notebooks and binders and Crayola sets a fifth grader would need. I saved up my money to buy a book about cats, I remember. I also got “The Big Book of Horses” and “King of the Wind”, which I still have. Later on there were college bookstores, and little bookstores in England, and Chapters Literary Bookstore in Washington DC and Canterbury Books in Madison, and many others that cheered me.
I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched the procession at Borders, that I was witnessing the end of an era, like Rhett and Scarlett watching the last of the Confederate troops leaving Atlanta. I don’t think it’s so much a contest between ebooks and print books, or online vs. brick and mortar, as it is the loss of a platform upon which to meet books. I certainly can, and do, order books from Amazon, and appreciate the ease and ability to do so. But I have to know about a book before I can order it—I have to know it exists. It seems the avenues for meeting new books is getting slimmer and slimmer.
So, I have a bulging bag of books from Borders that I’m reluctant to unpack. That’s my old world sitting there.
The wake will proceed until only the casket is left, and that will probably be for sale as well.