19 July 2011

Homage to the Bookstore

This week marked the end of yet another era--the announcement that all Borders Bookstores will be closing thus leaving yet another void in our techno-driven lives.  So for a few minutes, let's put down the smartphones (unless of course you're reading this blog ON a smartphone, and yes I realize the irony), the Kindle, the Nook, or whatever latest gadget has created a frenzied craze, and pay homage to the art that was a bookstore, much like a handwritten letter---classic yet now antiquated, as it slowly falls by the wayside.
There are many reasons for me to feel sentimental about the closing of this particular store. For one, and probably most obvious, it is where Terry has worked tirelessly for the past 6 years, in so many different roles, but most recently as head honcho, General Manager (long overdue but that's just my humble opinion).  And when I say worked, I mean devoted, dedicated, contributed, and slaved over thousands upon thousands of hours to make sure that this store was always running at peak performance even in the most dismal of times. So many times our plans have been postponed, canceled, changed, or simply nonexistent because of his need to fill in for someone, or make sure that things were on track with the store.  So many times our schedules were opposite and we'd become like two passing ships in the night, barely able to see each other or spend any quality time together until we got our one day off together.  And so many times he'd have to stay late, because no one else would, and SOMEONE needed to run the building.  But that's just what he does. And that's what makes him so good at it, while also garnering the respect from his peers and subordinates.  I could write an entire page about his work ethic, which is unlike anyone else I've ever seen, except perhaps my own father.  But I digress.

The very first time I brought Terry to Maine, nearly 8 years ago, to 'check things out',  we stopped at the South Portland Borders because, quite simply, we love a good bookstore.  Many, of course, know our story of how we met at the rival Barnes and Noble, back in Arlington, VA in 2002 where he was Assistant Manager, and I was a lowly bookseller, working there as a second job because the nonprofit life in nearby DC is completely unaffordable when you want to actually live there as well.  But again, I digress.

One thing that stands out to me from that trip to Borders back then was the fact that for some reason, I remember this one particular girl who worked there. I'm not sure why I remember her (except I have a penchant for remembering the most minute of details) except that when Terry started working at Borders in 2005, she was still there.  And I believe she is still there now.  And who knows how long she was there prior to my seeing her that first time.  The bottom line? Longevity.  I also remember thinking to myself, upon that first visit, 'it'd be really cool if T ended up working here', and of course, after a brief stint at someplace that rhymes with P.J. Saxx, there he was...embedded back into the bookstore culture.  For those who have never worked in a bookstore, let me just say those books don't magically appear on the shelves. 
I have had a love affair with bookstores since I was old enough to read.  It didn't matter WHAT store it was--whether a Borders or B&N, Walden's, a good used book store (like Powell's in Portland, Oregon), or now defunct stores like Brentano's...I have always loved the art of browsing. And against the advice of the old adage, "Don't judge a book by its cover", that is *exactly* what I do.  I judge the cover, the length, how good the description of the story is on the back.  All of it is part of my decision-making process in whether or not I'm going to fork over my cash to invest my time into reading that story.  I love book sales.  I adore picking up books that have been well-loved and previously owned by some other avid reader, with dog-eared creases still evident on the page.  I love the smell.  I remember going into Powell's for the first (and only) time, taking a deep breath and thinking, "there's a story for each one of these stories."   Meaning, each book had lived its life somewhere else--maybe it was an exotic beach in Fiji or in someone's backpack adventure around Europe.  Whatever the case, there's an enchanting intrigue about where a book has traveled before it lands in your hands.  The bookstore also had become a meeting place--for book clubs, coffee drinkers, gatherings of all kinds. And while there is no shortage of coffee shops that achieve that same meeting place feel, it's a shame not to be able to browse the stacks for a hot best seller at the same time.

It was a dream come true for me to work a second, fun job at the B&N in VA.  Books and music? My two favorite things?  Who wouldn't love it.  To this day, some of my greatest friendships were formed after working that three nights a week, all day Saturday shift.  (Here's my opportunity to give a shout-out to pals Mike H., Greg H., K. Graham J., Natalie H., Melvin C., and so many others. More irony as a vehicle like Facebook is how we all manage to still stay in touch, but we'll always have that bookstore camaraderie to share)  The point?  Working in a bookstore is like being with family. A strange, dysfunctional, often drama-filled family, but a family nonetheless.  I remember I used to think at B&N that the bookstore itself was just a facade for all the crazy that went on behind break-room doors.  So I can only imagine how the folks at SoPo Borders (and all the others in Maine and across the country) must be feeling knowing that soon they will be locking the doors and turning off the lights for the final time. 

A month before G was born, Borders threw us an amazing baby shower.  Held in the Cafe, it was overwhelming for me to see just how much Terry is loved by his coworkers.  Keep in mind too that he works with a lot of women--women who have had their fair share of babies, toddlers, teenagers, grandchildren, etc, and so dote on Terry like one of their own.  It was very sweet for me to be told that when G was born, he'd have several Aunties who would dote on him and love him like a real family.  Again, there's that family tie.  Since he was born, he's had several hats knitted for him, some slippers, books given to him, and a really cool pirate ship (I admit, before he knew what to do with it, I had more fun playing with it then he did). Whenever I've walked in there with him, the employees dote on him, and don't take offense that he usually maintains his stoic, serious face.  They love him just the same. What a joy it always is to see someone else delight in your child.  Thank you, Borders family, for delighting in ours.  

I think about the mini library we have going on now for G---how I hope our love of books translates to him as he grows up.  Where will we shop now? While I love the convenience of online shopping, and admit to succumbing to many a web purchase, I cannot convince myself that buying a book online, without touching it, feeling it's weight in my hands, will do justice to how I'd feel when I'd browse the new fiction table at Borders.  Not to mention, I always relied on T to tell me when some of my favorite authors were getting ready to do a new release, or have him tell me that he'd think my book club would really enjoy this one particular read.  And I will never ever curl up with a cold piece of electronics that is an e-reader on a snowy winters day, or during one of the many lovely Maine beach days.  

So to those who appreciate the art of a bookstore--the loyal employees, the faithful customers, the moms who enjoy a morning story time with their kids, the authors who rely on promoting through a talk, and the regulars who just stop by for their daily cup of coffee and newspaper...it's time to find a new place to gather.

To T and the SoPo Borders family...in these final days, think not of the uncertainty which may lie ahead, but the memories created, the passion you had for your work (rare in so many of our own daily jobs) and your customers, and the foundation from which it all came from---a love for books.  

Happy reading...


  1. This was very nice!!!! This change will be hard on everyone because for a lot of us it wasn't just a job. We created a family there and now there is no going back even if we left! :(

  2. thank you for sharing your banana with the Gman the other day. I think you became his favorite person that day :)