I live in a town that takes both Milton and its local business obituaries very seriously. Few closings slip the attention of the local electronic or paper press. Perhaps this is because this is a university town full of dreams and with each new season, a fresh set of business starts. We appreciate the power of hope and a good idea.
40 years ago Tom and Louis Borders used their great idea and opened their first Borders bookstore a few blocks from my office. It quickly became a shrine for all those who loved books and loved others who loved books. This past week, its original store closed.
For its first few decades, Borders flourished beginning here in Ann Arbor and then across North America and beyond. It had multiple iterations from a pocket-sized store found in airports to the big-box variety found in clumps along side its other big box cousins. Over the years it followed the media and coffee route, adding music and DVDs along with cafes. Borders came late to the digital age missing the start of online sales and e-readers.
Many chalk up its demise to the rise of digital books and a sinking economy. These certainly played a part, but to those who knew the magic of the original store, this was really a case of Paradise Lost or more simply put, the perfect book-finding experience lost. The original store had a sense of comfort to it. The employees were a fusion of young and eccentric, part-time college students and lifers. As its local Obit read, “If you were looking for something specific, they knew where to find it; if you didn’t know what you were looking for, they were your Virgil and Beatrice, guiding you through the world. It was a place with a soul.”
When the University of Michigan wanted to show off the town, it took visitors to two places: Zingerman’s, a legendary deli, and Borders. Both could be counted on for a wonderful experience. As the decades passed, Zingerman’s stayed true to itself and remembered they were selling an amazing food experience. Border’s began to just sell books as the experience faded. It takes both in today’s experience economy.
Where does the experience thrive in your community?
Where has it been forgotten?