By Benjamin Kissell
What makes this gay heart weep tears of profuse anger and bitterness? No, it's not the release of another Rebecca Black song [although, that does produce much of the same reaction] or the impending release of another Twilight flick [the hordes of Twi-hards are readying]. It's the disgusting - but not unexpected - announcement on July 11th that Borders Inc is closing its doors after 40 years.
It may come as no surprise to our readers [sorry for the 3 and a half month-long absence, btw] that I was a Hoarders Slave [to borrow the Retail Hell Underground slang] and worked for Borders for several years.
I was everything from a basic cashier [read: grunt] to the Operations Supervisor at one point. I was once the Training Supervisor and Calendar Kiosks Supervisor. I did Merchandising and Inventory Floor Drops. I did just about everything at one point or another in my almost 4-years there. Despite some insane bosses [leading to blogs entitled The Devil Wears Wal-Mart, for example] and some horrible custys over the years, I was very happy there. My co-workers were a family. One. Big. Borders. Family.
And now? About 3 months after my particular Borders closed its doors forever, hundreds of other Borders Families will be broken and cast to the wind. I weep for them, as my gay heart wept for my own.
Not only does this Liquidation send almost 11,000 people out of jobs, but, it spells doom for casual and die-hard book-buyers alike. The reason? For most folks, the e-book revolution (despite it's tech-savy coolness) isn't practical. Don't get me wrong, I own an e-reader. I love my e-reader. It's great for taking on long trips when lugging around multiple paperback or hardback books would be both costly (travel fees) and just-plain-hefty, but, the pleasure of picking up a book and flipping through its pages cannot be duplicated digitally.
Many folk have blamed Borders collapse on the digital books and e-readers - it is true that they were slow to get in on the digital bandwagon and it didn't help that until 2008 Borders website directed traffic to Amazon.com - but, this assumption is both fallacy and farce.
Legitimate reporters and kvetch-bloggers everywhere [myself included] have raised voice on the subject.
One of the more insightful (and still entertaining to read) articles is by the author of Social Media is Bullshit, comedian Brandon Mendelson. On his Posterous site, White Man Says Outrageous Things For Attention, Brandon posted "How the Associated Press Got Their Story About the Death of Borders and Its Impact Wrong".
I could gnash my teeth and yell my throat raw decrying the loss, but ... I've already done that. I did most of my mourning back in February through April. I've said my private good-byes - now, I'll say a few public ones.
Bookstores have played a significant part for most of my life. When I was a todder, my Mum worked at the large (for the time) local bookstore, WaldenBooks. After she quit, we still shopped there - and hit the other bookstore in the mall [BDalton and such], the local new/used bookstores and borrowed from the public library for many years - through its consolidation and closure in the mid-2000s.
In the mid 1990s, though, a sparkling new bookstore took root in-town. In the giant new shopping complex [inappropriately named Central Park] all of these new buildings seemed to spring up, fully-formed: Target. Shoppers Food Warehouse. Best Buy. Borders. We still hit our mom-and-pop local bookstores, don't get me wrong, but, the arrival of this huge, megalithic-mythical bookstore called to us. Its siren's song of destruction - for, how can one afford to buy all of the books one wants when such a store provides such easy access to them?
I was 13 years old and really developing my bookworm and geek-like tendencies [oh, c'mon, what boy at 13 wasn't reading all of those Star Wars novels because he had a mini-crush on Luke Skywalker? Oh. I get it. Guess that was my gay-heart speaking early on.] And this humongous building, housing so many choices was intimidating and amazing. Of course, it would take until the end of my late-teens for me to break out of my niche-reads (only reading one specific style/genre or author at a time) and embrace the gargantuon offerings such a large, chain bookstore could offer. And, of course, I was almost 20 before I truly embraced one of the other loves of my life: coffee, so it would be years before I grasped the enormity of a bookstore WITH a cafe within it.
Walking through those aisles - and the layout of a mid-90s Borders is nothing like the 2011 Borders, 'twas all cubby-hole and nooks packed with small couches and stacks of books - I was in heaven. For what could be better than all of those books, movies [vhs for a long time] and cds laid out for me?
I remember looking up at those stacks upon shelves and wishing we could just move in. I loved our bi-weekly trips to the bookstore; and with their Teachers Discount, we would spend hours poring over their selection to see what qualified and what didn't and to see which coupons we could apply. Years passed like this, I went to two high schools and on to college, never losing - only increasing - my love of books and for my local Borders. It was a steady relationship.
In March 2006 I happened - while sitting on the bench in front of humor - to notice a white jacketed book with a teal dress in foil on the cover. Bitter is the New Black, it read, by Jen Lancaster. Hrmm, this? Has potential I thought. Within the month, I had discovered a whole new genre of literature I had not yet embraced - humor. "Chick lit" came next and then humorous fiction - authors like Caprice Crane, Stacey Ballis, Sophie Kinsella, Marc Acito, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Paul Ruditis and Meg Cabot joined and supplanted the places of honor on my bookshelves. Borders had once again, worked a miracle into my life.
By this time, I had joined the ranks of the "Hoarders Slaves" and was a bookstore drone - quickly standing out, due to my customer service and overall general gay-heart-awesomeness, and I was team lead for "Merchandising" and various other roles of 'honor'. Borders, had once again sung its siren's song and laid claim to much of my paycheck, as well as more hours of my free-time than I shall commit to evidence.
Because of this new flowering of my literary-ness, I decided to do something I had never done - go to an author's reading/signing and get a book I loved autographed by an actual author. I asked my Mum [because, what gay heart doesn't take his mother to an important event?] to join me, and we went to the Borders in Bailey's Crossroads, VA. There we met [and I embarassed myself quite nicely] the fantastic (and my literary hero, aside from Jane Austen) Jen Lancaster
I shan't bore you with a whole recanting of the story; but, suffice it to say, it was one of the happiest times I've had in my life. Jen was - and still is - an amazing storyteller and terrific person to get to know. Her memoirs (and now fiction work) are witty and sharp-tongued, as well as insightful and often thought-provoking. Of course I love her for all that, but, it doesn't hurt things that she, too, loves gay hearts. She is the self-described "Queen of fat chicks and gay guys" [Bright Lights, Big Ass, her 2nd memoir].
I've loved my experiences with you, Borders; the good, the bad, the ugly and the be-glittered. Your presence in my life has allowed this gay heart to not only blossom and grow, but, to better himself and learn new things about himself in the world.
I met the first guy I ever went on a date with while cruising the dirty magazines (at 17); I was turned down by my first should've-been-gay-but-isn't guy who worked for you [he wore corduroy pants and tight t-shirts in the mid 2000s, pre-hipster - he REALLY should've been gay]; I met and made friends with local authors and met world-famous writers all because of Borders; I've created book tours and signed books; I've been cast as the Twi-heartthrob and garnered a myriad of tween-fans.
I got to meet, for one, the talented and terrific author Freeman Hall - our host and author of the book this site is here for - and strike up a friendship for the last 2 years, now. Without Borders, and my Borders Family, I wouldn't have had that chance.
I've had so many good (and a few not-so-good) experiences with you, Borders, and I wouldn't trade any for the world.
Thank you, Borders, thank you so very much. You made this gay heart happy for 15 years. And it truly makes this gay heart weep to see you go.
[I'd like to thank my Borders Family: Glenna, Christine, Rhonda, Ken, Bob, Shelly, Annette, Little, Elizabeth, Crystal, Chris, Kacey, Nora, Kathryn, Jay, Tom, Tommy, Brittany, Kelly, Karissa, Ben, Brandon, Stephanie and the dozens of other good people I worked with at the Stafford Marketplace Borders over the years and to the hundreds I knew over the last 15 at the Central Park Borders. Thank you. This one's for you.]