I’m very sorry to hear that all the Borders bookstores in the world may close their doors very soon. This is not, apparently, because the book business is slowing down (Barnes and Noble and Amazon are still viable) but because of specific business decisions that turned out badly. I hope there will be a last-minute salvation, and if there’s not I will certainly grieve this loss. Say what you want about massive book super-stores; they are great places to buy books, hang out and hear author readings. And we need the restrooms.
There’s one Borders bookstore I specially remember, my favorite Borders in New York City, though this store closed nearly ten years ago. It was one of the flagship Borders locations in Manhattan, and it was a particularly good one because the vast building that housed it gave it the space of a barn.
This Borders had three floors — a small one, a big one, and a very big one. The lowest, smallest floor let out on a subway/PATH train concourse, and so it held mystery and romance bestsellers, comic books, magazine racks, bubble gum, CDs and playing cards. It was good that all this stuff cluttered up the lower floor, because it freed up the first floor to be something special.
The first, street-level main floor of this Borders was all fiction and literature. Nothing else; the bestsellers were downstairs and the categories were upstairs. The shelves started with Chinua Achebe on one side of the large space, wound around the setbacks and corners like wallpaper, and ended with Louis Zukofsky near the revolving doors. In the middle were flat table displays of paperbacks, new releases, staff picks, remainders. I spent a whole lot of money over several years on this floor.
Escalator up to the third floor, and you’re in a space like an airplane hangar, all well-filled with books of various kinds. To your right is the sports section, then kids (with a play section in the middle), and then if you turn a sharp right for the men’s room you run conveniently into the music and arts section (where I also tended to spend a lot of money). Further into the space is science, philosophy, psychology, religion, New Age in the center, history and World War II/Civil War books (the Father’s Day aisle) to the right, cooking and crafts and automotive to the left. You could walk around and between the shelves of the third floor of this Borders for an hour and never see the same person twice.
The reason this Borders bookstore closed nearly ten years ago was that it was in Building 5 of the World Trade Center. Obviously, it never opened its doors again after September 11, 2001. For a while there was a new Borders in the Financial District, at 100 Broadway right around the corner of Wall Street, so I felt the memory of this great lost bookstore was honored. But the Borders at 100 Broadway closed in February.
Will the rest of these great stores close? I hope not, but it looks like they will. I wonder how many people will someday remember their favorite bookstores forever (in sad past tense) the way I still remember the Borders at 5 WTC.