There’s a track on Jon Brion’s unparalleled 2004 soundtrackTo “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” that’s been playing in my head lately. “Bookstore”Although the movie only lasts 52 second, its character, composed of eerie strings playing in reverse order, is quite remarkable. Joel meets Clementine in a bookstore.
The logo is never shown, but I’ve always known it was a Borders. The warm colors, those angled shelves rising just to chin level — the setting of the bookstore chain is etched into my memory. But I’m one of the last kids who grew up with it. Fifth graders today have no memory of the place I’m about to describe. And they’re just as forgetful as I was once. “Eternal Sunshine” in late high school or early college and think they’ve found a niche and unknown brilliance in it, that scene in the bookstore will be nothing more than that: a scene in a bookstore.
It’s more to me.
The carpet in children’s section. That’s what I remember. The space-themed cosmic purple/blue carpet was flattened in between the aisles. People stopped looking at the shelves and spines from above their heads. If I was smaller, the shelves would have been higher back then.
There was a little platform where they’d give readings, where authors would presumably sit and leaf through their new picture book to a crowd of adoring kindergartners, though I never went to one of those. My Borders was located just down Kercheval Ave from Ace Hardware and Starbucks in Grosse Pointe (Mich.). There used to be a Jacobson’s department store across the street, but it closed before I was born or soon after and I only know because my mom mentions it whenever we drive by.
I went there to look for Percy Jackson and Warriors books — the two series that held my third-grade class in a pop-literary chokehold. I found a Harry Potter set somewhere. It was purchased by my dad in the wee hours of 2007 “The Deathly Hallows,”The one that my brother told him to camp for.
Those were the things I noticed. Here are some I didn’t.
Ann Arbor was the first location where Borders was founded. The first Borders store Open in 1971 at 209 S. State St. — now the site of a CVS — but the owners relocated a few years later to 303 S. State — now the site of the MDen — and in 1994 to the corner of Maynard Street and East Liberty Street — now home to Knight’s Steakhouse, Sweetwaters and Slurping Turtle.
The flagship Borders store in Liberty would remain the location for the next 17 years. The space used to be a Jacobson’s department store, which my mom would find funny.
The company quickly expanded beyond Ann Arbor. They opened a second location in Birmingham (Mich.), which was just a few minutes away from my highschool. The founders Sold the companyKmart owned 21 Borders stores in the U.S.A in 1992. This number grew as Kmart opened franchises and airport shops and expanded internationally.
Borders was the best-known bookstore chain in 2000. Some had cafésAnd sold Starbucks coffee. They sold CDs CD players, branded mugs and toys — Bakugan and BeybladesIf I recall correctly, they did. They sold books and had a wide variety of bookmarks. They sold physical books. And that might’ve been why they didn’t last.
In 2010, there had been more than 500 Borders stores in the U.S. None.
The company was losing cash. They hadn’t turned a profit since 2006. It occurred to me that my Borders memories were all from this period when things were getting worse, though I didn’t know that. I can still recall the fresh, quiet smell of new paper and the silence amongst the shelves. In reality, the model was failing behind closed doors.
Amazon Arrived1995. Jeff Bezos, as he is known to do, took away a source for happiness. It was easy to order books online, and they were always in stock. You didn’t have to drive 10 minutes to the nearest Borders. Instead, click “purchase”Wait for the package to arrive at your home for a few days. Borders ContractedTo sell books through Amazon in 2001 instead of promoting its own online presence.
Barnes & Noble, too Apply some pressureJumping to sell ereaders like the Nook (remember those?) Their competitor was several years ahead. They’d consolidate the scraps of the brick-and-mortar bookstore chain niche once Borders was dead and buried.
And now it’s buried. It’s a collective memory that will die with my generation. And maybe I’m reading too much into that fact. But I don’t think I am. There’s an importance to the spaces we inhabit. There’s the nostalgia of returning to a place you haven’t been in too long. Then there’s the nostalgia of a place you can never return to.
I’m nostalgic not for something that went out of fashion or lost its trend, but for something that is obsolete — a culture or a way of engaging with art and the world that is no longer useful enough, attractive enough, profitable enough to exist. This is what scares the hell out of me. Like the many other normal and ordinary aspects of growing up, it carries more weight than you’d think or want.
One day, Borders in my town was closed and replaced with another store. That’s okay by me. You can see how they evolve as they change. Here’s what I can’t quite live with: The very first Borders was here in Ann Arbor, and it is now a drug store, or a restaurant, or a gift shop for parents with an abundance of cash on game days — and I never knew. I didn’t watch this place change. It didn’t change without my involvement. It didn’t change in my lifetime. It is still something I miss.
This scene is from “Eternal Sunshine”It is meant as a reminder of one these characters. As the memory fades, shelves become whiter and titles fall off the spines. The store’s warm colors turn cold. The music plays in reverse.
It was shot in Borders, I thought. I thought I recognized it, that I couldn’t mistake it. It was shot in a Barnes and Noble. They once mentioned the name. We see things as they are, true or false.
Everything inside Borders was being bought the day my hometown shut down. The iconic sign, light fixtures, and CD racks. My mom and myself went. One of the shelves was purchased at a price of $14. When I asked my brother, he helped me lift the shelf from the trunk. “Why’d you guys get this thing? There’s nowhere to put it.”
I smiled and told him that it was going in the basement. It remained there for approximately a year. My mom suggested that I take the car outside. I knew she meant curb, but I dragged my mom’s car into the backyard. It sat in rain, snow, and rain until it began to rot. I couldn’t understand why it was bought in the first place or why I refused it to be thrown out. It’s something like music playing in reverse.
Julian Wray is the Books Beat editor. He can be reached at [email protected]