the book giant that failed, and those who will remember the flagship store in Ann Arbor as the coolest indie bookstore ever.
Tom and Louis Borders opened their used bookshop on State Street in Ann Arbor in 1971. My parents moved us to Ann Arbor from a big Detroit suburb in 1974. I was not-quite-14 years old, full of teen angst exacerbated by the move, and completely miserable in my new home town.
I was lonely (14 is a sucky time for girls to have to move; don't do it to your child) and bitter. My old school was 6th-8th grade and I had made all my friends there. My new school was 7th-9th grade (due to an overcrowded high school) and I couldn't beg or bribe my way into the cliques. All my friends were going to high school and I was stuck in a fourth year of junior high, a fate worse than death. I may, with a little more therapy, find a way to forgive my parents.
To me, the only decent thing about Ann Arbor back then (I think of them as the Wonderless Years) was free bus transportation for students. I started exploring a bit and discovered three great things on State Street:
The State Theater — a grand old dowager that had seen better days, but let students in for a buck and showed late-night movies. I'll never forget getting the beejeezus scared out of me when I went to see Sissy Spacek in Carrie at midnight with my uncle, who was just a few years older than I.
Wazoo Records — may still be one of the coolest record stores in the world (Stylus Magazine thought so in 2007), though I haven't been there in years. Those were vinyl days, and Wazoo was where I bought my copy of Janis Joplin's Pearl and my very first Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills and Nash records. Everything about Wazoo was cool in the hippie counterculture kind of way that I had missed by being born 10 years too late. I started my record collection there, which recently brought $300 into the family coffers, despite being used and abused to the point of being barely audible.
The original Borders — hunched right next to the State Theater and across from Wazoo, and was cool in a whole different kind of way. It felt more Nor Cal than midwest, all laid back and intellectual, just this side of pretentious. Since before I could read, stories had transported me beyond the mundane limits of late century midwest suburbia. Borders was an oasis, a calm, reader-centric environment with benches everywhere and a few comfy chairs that invited to you sit and read. Don't yawn. Back then, that was truly innovative. Other bookstores were crammed with shelves and snarky staff who looked down their noses and dared you to crack one of their new spines without paying for it first. Our Borders hired smart college students and book lovers of all ages who knew a thing or two, and were happy to share their recommendations or help you find the perfect gift. And Borders even had refreshments. You could (and I did) practically live there.
Though I continued to prefer the grownup Borders to Barnes & Noble, and feel plenty guilty about my Amazon binges, the Borders I will mourn hasn't really existed since it moved down the block to what they came to call "Store No. 1" on Liberty. Maybe that's what ultimately led to Borders' downfall— rewriting history and kind of forgetting what the real Store Number 1 was all about.
Do you remember the real Borders? If not, what do you think this failure means, if anything, to book lovers everywhere? Click here to comment.