I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan when there was just one Borders Books – a store with an immense collection of scholarly books that attracted students and faculty from the University of Michigan’s campus just a block away. I watched as it grew, taking over a second floor, adding CDs, then moving into a department store’s location.
I remember thinking, when Borders opened a second store in Birmingham, Michigan, that this was not a good sign. The single independent bookstore could tailor its offerings to the unique needs of a major university. Birmingham had different tastes.
I watched as Borders became a chain. It carried fewer and fewer of the university presses, devoted more and more space to its cafe, music, and eventually even gifts and stationery.
When I moved to Minnesota 12 years ago, the Borders store in Eau Claire was the nearest outpost of my former life – even though, by then, it was only a shadow of the original Borders in Ann Arbor.
I was sad to stop in for a last visit on Tuesday. Bargain hunters carried out shelves and lighting fixtures as well as stacks of books: everything had a price tag on it. Clearly I was among the last patrons. The computer section was filled with books for out-dated editions of software.
For years, we heard that the independent bookstore was in danger of disappearing, shut out by the large chains. Now the chains themselves have been disappearing, as online sales and ebooks take a larger share of the market. This may be the opening for a resurgence of the independent booksellers – perhaps not on the scale of the original Borders, but of a similar style – where the thrill of discovery and the wonderful adventure of real browsing can still be found.