Helloooo from New Jersey. Yesterday I had the displeasure of getting the e-mail that a Borders in my area was closing– specifically, the Borders I grew up loving and going to all the time ever since I was a little bookwormin’ weirdo. There’s been a Borders at the Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, NJ ever since I can remember. First there was the old one, with the red-lettered sign (#90sswag?)… small, cozy, two stories… the children’s room in the basement, I remember, had a stage for storytelling. This was before Barnes and Noble got all macho with their bookstores–this was before the franchising really started. I remember being about 8 sitting up on that stage waiting for my dad and reading an Amelia Bedelia book while these two pre-pubescent twerps next to me peeped a book about the human body. They were laughing at the penises and making sure it was tilted AWAY from me to protect my widdle eyes. They couldn’t have been more than two years older than me. When my dad returned with a cup of coffee (It was not Seattle’s Best– Borders didn’t start serving coffee in their stores until 2004), the kids had since gone, and right before heading to the checkout I placed my Amelia Bedelia book back on the shelf and instead picked up the Anatomy book the kids had left sitting on the stage, and offered it to the cashier for scanning and bagging.
But then they closed that one, at some point while I was in high school, and they opened the Mondo Borders in the new wing of the GSP. This monster was created to compete with the immense Barnes & Noble that had opened down Route 17 a few years prior– this new Borders was complete with the coffeeshop, the racks of DVDs, and even a designated area for selling clothing (at the time, probably all Harry Potter related). But monster or not: the new store was exciting. It was huge. They’d succeeded in creating a bookstore-turned-hang out spot, turned study-area, turned empire. More rows of books to leaf through and more comfortable couches to waste time on, and coffee or iced chais to sip on whether you were tired or not.
In the past year or so there have been articles upon articles about how large bookstore chains are out and independent bookstores are in, as less and less people are actually going out and buying a novel when they could just as easily stream a movie via Netflix instant watch or download a book from a website. And now I was really about to understand what monster had actually been slain– the store whose opening seemed so triumphant to me six or seven years ago is one of the locations Borders Group is closing after the decision last month to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.
And so I made my way to the Borders at the Garden State Plaza yesterday which is set to close at the end of March. The entire store, as one can imagine, was in disarray– magazines strewn all over the place, DVDs in the Poetry section, sets of Seinfeld series placed underneath the “NEW PAPERBACKS” table. Etc. Black and yellow signs hung from the light fixtures, proclaiming that “EVERYTHING MUST GO”– 20% off all fiction, 40% off most everything else. The signs were everywhere– the store felt more like a warehouse than anything else. Certainly no longer a hang-out spot. Certainly no empire.
It was depressing. I trudged over to the Fiction section, picked up a copy of A Visit from the Goon Squad, and wandered around aimlessly to see if there was anything else I wanted to grab. And Then: I spotted the line. At first, it made me feel a little less bad about things. The line was the longest I’d ever seen it– curving around the DVD section first and then through the animal calendars, it was the kind of line you see outside the Apple store the morning a new iPhone is released. It raised my spirits a bit. People don’t suck! People do like to read!
I got on line and to the left of me I noticed a teenage couple fiddling with the Borders’ version of the Kindle, the $150 (now only $99!) “Kobo”. Unlike the Barnes & Noble down the highway, this Borders doesn’t have an information desk manned by five or six “E-Reader Experts” whose job it is to push the e-reader on you like a travel agent would a timeshare package. The Kobos simply sit on their own respective wooden table, next to “Great Gift Ideas”, with only one Kobo actually hooked up and running for shoppers to fiddle with. (Some say this is where the Borders Group went wrong– when e-readers started to become popular in 2008, Borders outsourced their e-reader sales to Amazon, who, in turn, were the ones to make a fortune on them. Barnes & Noble, however, did not outsource to Amazon, and now the B&N “Nook” accounts for 25% of the e-reader market.)
I eavesdrop on the conversation and I hear the boy ask his girlfriend, “Can you click on this?” (Click on what? I’m wondering.)To which the girl responds, “I dunno, but I think you can use it to play games.”
“Huh,” he says, before pounding away at a side button.
There were about fifty to sixty people on that Borders line last night. I believe I spent about thirty minutes on it, which is a long time to stand on any line that doesn’t promise a rollercoaster at the end. And I shit you not when I say that, as far as my eyes could see, not one person (not ONE) had in their hands an actual novel. The tiny happiness I felt when I first saw the line dissolved into minor whitegirlproblem-esque despair.
So perhaps it isn’t the bookstore franchise that is dying– perhaps it just comes down to the simple fact that people just aren’t reading novels anymore. Perhaps literature really is soon to be dead. But I refuse to believe that people can no longer find time in their lives for stories. And, luckily, eavesdropping on another couple’s conversation left me feeling a tad bit better about the entire thing.
Right before it was my turn at the cash register (my last time ever at this store), an elderly couple in line behind me start to get a bit rowdy. “I can’t carry this shit anymore,” the woman says to her husband. “Hold it for me.” I turn around to watch as the woman passes over to her husband an entire collection of Burts Bees products that was marked down 40% from its original price.
“Oh.” The woman is suddenly sidetracked. “Grab that funny New Jersey book. Is that on sale?”
Her husband picks up Weird NJ from a nearby rack, and begins to flip through it. “You want this? This can’t be real,” he says to his wife.
“Who cares?” she yells, irritated. “That’s not the damn point!”
The old lady grabs the book from her husband and stuffs it under her arm, making an immediate decision to purchase it.
Well , fine, okay then. I am okay with that spirit.