Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Every Friday, I picked Sue up from her van pool.  We'd never go home; we'd go out to eat somewhere, usually someplace quick and cheap, a KFC or a Subway.  It might have been nice to go someplace better, to linger over fine food, to laugh and share our thoughts.

No time for that, though.  She saw her therapist on Friday evenings.  She liked to get there a little early, to sit in solitude and gather her thoughts.  Me, I had my own ritual: I'd keep driving up the Rockville Pike to the Borders bookstore in Germantown.

It was an unnecessary drive in a way, since we had a Borders in our own neighborhood.  The one in Germantown had a different vibe, though.  The cafe area dominated the entire front section, and on weekends it featured live acoustic music.  I'd linger in the magazine section--every Borders seemed to stock a different lineup of magazines--listening, reading, relaxing.  It was, in a way, my own form of therapy: with that weekly ritual, I purged whatever demons I may have been wrestling at the time.  I began to relax, to be still.

During those waning months of my marriage, I had any number of Borders stores I haunted with some frequency.  The one in Northern D.C. had the best selection of DVDs and graphic novels, the one at White Sands had the most eclectic lineup of fiction and media studies.  Still, I wondered, why so many stores?  Why not have one huge location combining all the best features of every store?

Indeed, the seemingly insatiable need for expansion, to place an outlet in every conceivable market, was one of the factors cited in the decision of Borders' corporate overlords to shutter the entire chain.  There were other reasons--the tanking economy, the rise of e-books--but expansion overkill was almost certainly the last straw.

For consumers, however, the signs of the end had come in the form of the chain's reaction to slowing sales of recorded music and movies: the once substantial (if overpriced) music and movie sections were reduced by half or more, if not eliminated entirely, and replaced by a bizarre assortment of pop-culture gewgaws.  The Borders here in the Des Moines suburbs carried so many Nightmare Before Christmas-themed figurines and board games, it felt more like Hot Topic, albeit a brightly-lit Hot Topic that sold a metric ton of Tom Clancy novels.

That particular location closed a few months ago, and though I had spent many, many happy hours there over the years, in the end, I wasn't sorry to see it go.  It had turned into nothing more than a delivery system for the latest best-sellers, and the author most likely to stop by for a book signing was Sarah Palin.  It was no longer a place for me, or anyone who cares about books, and it never would be again.