Goodbye to a Store Like no Other
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It’s tough for any sports
writer to get a book published – but it was a lot easier with a friendly
bookstore on your side, from start to finish.
It wasn’t that long ago that
if you wanted to buy a book, there was no Kindle or Nook or amazon.com
– or the internet. There weren’t even big-chain book stores.
You had to go to one of those narrow stores in mini-malls that sold
paperback best-sellers and thrillers and romance novels.
But then the Borders brothers
changed all that. They decided to go big, opening a two-story
shop on State Street in Ann Arbor. They stocked almost everything,
they gave customers room to relax and read, and they hired people who
weren’t just clerks, but readers.
When I applied for a job there
in college, they didn’t just hand me an application, but a test on
literature -- which I failed.
But if they wouldn’t let
me sell books there, they still let me buy them, so perhaps it was just
as well. I bought everything from Mark Twain’s “Innocents
Abroad” to Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five.” Typically,
I’d walk in for one book, and walk out with four – an hour later.
I spent over a thousand dollars a year there, then a few hundred more
on book shelves.
When Borders became a national
chain, we Ann Arborites took an unearned pride in seeing the rest of
the country love it as much as we did.
But Borders conceded the internet
to amazon.com, then seemed to embark on a strategy designed not to create
a stirring comeback, but a slow retreat. Finally, Borders announced
it was going out of business this summer.
This week I visited my local
Border’s store, Number #1, right downtown, one last time. I
toured my favorite sections, literature and history, but also stopped
by the children’s department, where I bought Dr. Seuss books for my
nieces years ago, one of whom is now in college. I visited the
travel stacks, where I planned trips to Turkey and Thailand, Spain and
South America. I also picked up books to teach me just enough
of those languages to get me in trouble, but not quite enough to get
me out of it. I must have bought the cheaper ones.
But I didn’t need to get
on a plane to go places. Pick up a good book – completely portable,
no plugs or batteries needed – and you can go anywhere you want, even
back in time, in just minutes.
In 1989, at the original store’s
reference section, I picked up a copy of Writer’s Market, because
my teacher told me it was the bible for free-lance writers. I saved
it. In the back pages I listed all the publications where
I sent my articles, and which ones rejected them. That first year,
all but one did. Thank you, Motor Trend. I bought ten copies
of that issue at Border’s, too.
But I kept buying Writer’s
Market and sending out my stories. After a decade, I published
my first book. I wrote my second book in Borders’ café, where
I also listened to readings by my friends, and the famous.
A few years ago the Borders
in downtown Ann Arbor sold more copies of my last book, on Bo Schembechler,
than any store in the country. I spent hours signing them, and
the staff became colleagues, even friends.
During my last visit, one of
them said, “Hey John, can I help you find anything?”
“No, thanks,” I said, then
waved my hand over the entire store. “I just came to say goodbye
to an old friend.”
I shook his hand. “Thanks
He nodded, but kept a stiff upper lip, and walked off to help someone else.