Thursday July 28th, 2011

Bye Bye Borders

Like several other people I know, I was oddly moved by the mass e-mail I received the other day from Borders CEO Mike Edwards offering a “fond farewell” to customers.

My first job after college was at a Borders. (I was what experts would call “bad at job-searching.”) I spent three or four months there, working among a few industrious people who seemed intent on moving up in the retail world and a few wry, aging aspiring screenwriters intent on slouching against the counter and telling jokes. The co-worker I was closest to was a very tall, funny lesbian who once made me an Ani DiFranco mix tape. Those were heady days.

The store was on Royal Lane and Preston Road, just north of St. Mark’s, a prestigious private school for boys where Rhett Miller of the Old 97’s had graduated and Owen Wilson had been expelled for bad behavior. The Wilsons actually lived just a bit further down on Royal, I believe, and Owen was browsing in the store one day. He asked me where the art books were. I told him how much I loved Bottle Rocket (which I did, and do). Armageddon had recently opened, and I sensed he was already being recognized far more often for that — he seemed genuinely pleased that I had cited the earlier, not-terrible movie.

One day, Don Henley came into the store and ordered — true to form — various books about environmental issues as gifts for friends. I sat there looking up titles and entering his friends’ addresses for a good half hour or so. He seemed humorless if not fully unapproachable, like most of his solo work.

A local singer named Meredith Miller played in the cafe there one night, and included in her set a cover of one of my all-time favorite songs, Tom Waits’ “San Diego Serenade.” I fell in love a little.

My discount and my living at home at the time combined to ensure that most of the money I made at Borders stayed at Borders. I remember bringing my dad to the holiday-season employee sale and the two of us filling a large basket with books. At the time, the store had terrific stock — the best of any store in the area, as far as I could tell. Over the years, that store and other Borders locations — including one in Saratoga Springs, New York, which I always visited on my annual trip up there — gradually grew less interesting to me, prominently displaying more predictable books and carrying fewer and fewer CDs. Still, I’m not against chains on principle (far from it), and Borders was a good one once upon a time. I’ll miss it.