I went to college at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 1993, a little independent bookstore beckoned with warm, cozy lighting, secluded corners where I could curl up with a book, and packed shelves. This was the first Borders--before the Rewards program, before the sidelines and the music/videogame sections, before the store became a corporation.
When it reopened as a bigger store, Borders kept its small feel by hiring knowledgeable staff who had to pass a literary test to be hired. I know, I took one when I applied for a job there. Where would these books be shelved in the store? Where could a customer find these top award-winners? Who wrote these five classic children's book titles? Questions like these ensured Borders employees would handsell books to readers, be able to answer more than just average questions about books and authors. The early Borders stores embodied the spirit of literacy and reading for pleasure with its book clubs and author readings.
It was frustrating and disheartening to watch this company's slow, steady decline away from its original identity. Bestseller and sideline tables assaulted customers as they entered the doors, distracting them by shiny popularity rather than encouraging a reader's natural scavenger hunt for hidden gems of storytelling.
Perhaps it's for the best that this store has met its end. True independent bookstores have one fewer competitor. And this may herald one more step in the movement away from big, unwieldy, indifferent box stores who don't care about cozy lighting, reading nooks, and the magic of books.