Sunday, March 23, 2008

My Town Monday: Borders Bookstore-the original

My Town Monday

Back in the seventies when we wanted a book in the Detroit area, there were not many good bookstores to choose from. Daltons and Waldenbooks were likely to have best sellers, some classics, and a small selection of other books. There were a few independent stores and although their stock might be more eclectic, it was no more reliable and often the book you wanted had to be ordered. There were some decent used bookstores that were fun and cheap but there was never any guarantee you’d find what you wanted. Locating a book two years old was often a problem: too old for the new stores, not old enough for the used bookstores.

But if we had a little time on our hands, we could drive to Ann Arbor, an hour away, and visit Borders, named for the family who operated it, an exceptional bookstore that even carried university press books for my husband. It was like a trip to heaven for the Abbott family, a whole day affair, something truly special. And for 20 years, it was a single store that was packed night and day with University of Michigan students and professors, townspeople and visitors like us. Often you waited in line twenty minutes or more to buy your books---and it was just books then: No coffee mugs, no music, no toys or games. Borders was known for requiring their clerks to pass a stiff test and treating their employees well. They weren't as cultish as the staff at Trader Joes' but close.

And then came the nineties and a buyout from Kmart, stock options and eventually there were 1100 Borders competing with even more Barnes and Nobles bookstores and Amazon and Powell online and a public that didn’t read very much. And those online stores sold used books at a quarter of the price.

I was skeptical that the public who read books really needed a megabookstore within five miles of their home. Donuts, yes, Coffee, yes, drugstores yes. But books? Right from the start, they looked too empty to sustain their size and inventory. But I crossed my fingers.

Now it appears Borders days are numbered. The store on our corner is likely to close because there is a Barnes & Noble within three miles. I am sad about this. Maybe a new independent bookstore will eventually open in Ann Arbor. Oh, yes it’s already there and called Shaman Drumm. Maybe we’ll drive there again to get our books. But probably we’ll order them online. You can’t go home again and with the price of gas…

For more posts about My Town Monday acorss the globe, see the blog of creator, Travis Erwin http://traviserwin.blogspot.com/

18 comments:

Chuck said...

I was at Michigan from '61 to '65 before there was a Borders. However, as I recall, there were at least a dozen book stores on State Street and Ulrick's on South University where I bought my fist slide rule. Does anyone recall what a slide rule is?

Now, except for Follett's and Ulricks, all of the book stores of my youth are gone. I remember taking my used books from one store to the next endeavoring to get the best trade for someone else's used books that I would need for the next semester.

And I always looked for those books that were heavily underlined with notes in the margins (we didn't have highlighters back then) not only because they were the cheapest, but also because the margin notes were often very helpful.

And the book stores were something like the book store from Harry Potter. They were dimmly lit long, narrow stores with hard wood floors and nothing but books that smelled of nothing but books.

Of course, if you want to re-visit a book store of the past, you can always visit the John King book store on West Lafayette in downtown Detroit. Last time I was there, it was all books and smelled of all books and there was no latte.

Graham Powell said...

I started my Borders addiction at the one in Roswell, Georgia (suburban Atlanta). When I moved to Dallas I started going to the Prestonwood Borders, where they have most of the Dallas book signings.

Back then the stores resembled libraries. HUGE stacks. In the mystery and science fiction sections it seemed like they had every book in print.

It's not the same now, but it's still a great store.

Todd Mason said...

I worked at a Borders in Northern Virginia from 1992-1996, the latter years as an Office Manager, a position they abolished shortly after I quit, because the OMs were seen as too much the advocates for the floor staff vs. the other management. That was the degree to which the rot had set in, in the corporate culture, and that had begun well before the K-Mart purchase (and immediate pairing with the already K-Mart-owned Waldenbooks, who had been tentatively starting their own line of "superstores," Bassett).

Even from 1992 to 1993, we saw the diversity of books carried shrink, and as the attempts, at first mostly by the Wobblies, to unionize the stores in part to help the junior staff suggest that maybe making the selection thinner would cut out the major advantage Borders had over B&N (the latter's stores were almost always better-appointed--better chairs, more attention to design factors--but had fewer books...but what's your point?)...and effort which was fought tooth and nail by managements, who wanted loyalty oaths and nonsense like that. Mostly what they got for that troubling posturing was to briefly draw the attention of a union with some muscle and money behind it, the United Food and Commercial Workers, who briefly succeeded in unionizing some stores (which Michael Moore was happy to cutely memorialize in one of his films) till the UFCW noted just how little the Borders workers were making, and how transient so many were as a result.

The OMs in my day (pardon me, my rheumatis' is acting up) were nominally the back-office managers (though most of the back office staff I worked with needed little supervision) and were the payroll and chief accounting folks as well as emperors of the purchase orders...we were saddled with a truly awful payroll program, Ceridian Orchestrator, a name I might remember longer than I do my own. I know I encourage the two general managers I worked with to bump our colleagues pathetic pay rates (particularly in the DC area) up as much as they thought we could "get away" with.

My having a photocopy of a cover from a history of the IWW on my office door probably didn't inspire too much love in any visiting regional manager.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Todd-Is there anywhere you haven't lived or worked? Thanks for the history.
Graham-At the beginning, I felt I could ask a Borders clerk any question in the world and get some kind of cogent answer. It still is a great store. Especially the AA one.

Clair Dickson said...

I keep seeing stores carrying less and less selection... it doesn't make any sense to me. I buy less, and shop online more because I'm not going to make twenty-seven stops just to get what I want.

Sometimes I think stores are their own worst enemy.

Travis Erwin said...

We do not ahve Borders stores in my neck of the woods (B&N and Hastings rule here) but I lament the loss of any bookstore and I have read several things about the likely end of Borders.

Barrie said...

The original Borders! Who knew? There is a Borders near me, although it's not as close as B&N.

Debbielou said...

In my town we have a "Boardman's" family run book shop - a great place to while away the hours!

Bryon said...

I too love the original Borders and Borders in general. I absolutely detest Barnes and Nobel. They never have anything I want and their staff is rude and ignorant if you can even find them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have gound this to be true in Michigan and I wonder if it's because it was the original home of Borders. I like the atmosphere in Borders more too.

Carleen Brice said...

Denver's Tattered Cover had the chance to franchise a la Borders and never did. Good decision or bad, who knows? Either way, it's hard for booksellers! As a writer and reader I sometimes feel like a dinosaur. But thanks to this post...I'm off to Tattered Cover.

lyzzydee said...

I have just got back from a weekend away in the UK and right next door to our hotel was a Borders, I had to take a look, for research purposes!! Seems quite popular here at the moment!!

Jason said...

I've always been a fan of Borders. But, alas, the only nearby bookstore of that size... Barnes & Nobles. That's where I bought my last three books.

WordVixen said...

I've never liked our local Borders because of its location, layout, generally rude and ignorant staff... etc. But I haven't had much luck with the other bookstores here either! But sometimes, when I go on my tirades about these huge corporate companies, I forget that they once started out as small, idealistic companies just like everyone else.

Thank you for reminding me of that.

The Anti-Wife said...

The original store. How wonderful to have experienced that. Thanks for sharing this.

Lana Gramlich said...

Sorry it's taken me a while to get to this post. Between mundania & back problems it's been a grueling couple of weeks!
Thanks for sharing this. Personally I prefer supporting smaller, local stores. My husband & I even took a solemn vow never to shop at Wal*Mart again. Unfortunately these small outlets are really getting killed in the marketplace. It's very sad, really.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Hi Lana-We don't have any of those left it the Detroit area near me. Just the big two and used bookstores.
Oh, and one mystery bookstore, Aunt Agatha's.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Hi Lana-We don't have any of those left it the Detroit area near me. Just the big two and used bookstores.
Oh, and one mystery bookstore, Aunt Agatha's.